Written evidence submitted by the Army Families Federation to the
to the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill
About the Army Families Federation
The Army Families Federation (AFF) is the independent voice of Army families and endeavours to improve the quality of life for these families around the world. AFF provides advice and information, as well as engaging with the chain of command and Government to ensure Army families’ views and issues are represented.
The Armed Forces Bill contains new legislation relating to the Armed Forces Covenant. The Covenant has a significant impact on the lives of Army families. AFF is grateful to the Armed Forces Bill Committee for this opportunity to reflect on these proposed changes.
AFF is unable to comment on the other aspects of the Bill, as these fall outside our charitable remit.
The proposed changes only cover education, health and housing.
1. The proposed legislation does not address all Armed Forces Covenant issues, as due regard is only applicable to education, health and housing. This could lead to a “two-tier” Armed Force Covenant, where families are provided with support in these areas but not others, such as adult training provision, spousal employment and access to financial services. In particular, we would welcome greater provision for support to Non-UK Service personnel and their families, to remove the disadvantage they face in pursuing family life in the UK.
The legislation will only apply to local public bodies, not other Government departments, the devolved administrations or commercial organisations.
2. Disadvantage for Army families is more often the result of Government level policy than local authority level. For example, it is Home Office policies on Minimum Income Requirements that prevent some non-British soldiers from having their families join them in the UK. Or the lack of clear information from DWP, HMRC and MOD on the national insurance and tax status of spouses accompanying their soldiers overseas.
3. In addition, Armed Forces families also experience disadvantage within the commercial sector and AFF is concerned that the proposed legislation will not address these issues. For example, we have been contacted by spouses who have been disadvantaged as they have been unable to fulfil the return-to-work requirement of their maternity leave conditions, due to their serving partner being posted away from the area where they were employed before their maternity leave. This has led to the spouse either being made to pay back additional maternity pay or having their pay stopped when notifying their employer of the posting before the end of maternity leave. Several of these cases were teachers and AFF attempted to resolve these through the Armed Forces Covenant to the relevant local authorities. However, these teachers worked for academies, rather than local authorities, who as private businesses are not signed up to the Armed Forces Covenant, and refused to accept that these spouses were being disadvantaged by Service life.
4. In order to provide the most effective support for families, AFF would welcome the proposed legislation in the Bill being widened to Government departments and commercial businesses.
The Bill lacks detail of the process for how Armed Forces families can challenge public bodies if they feel they have not shown due regard.
5. AFF would welcome clearer details on how families can challenge public bodies in these circumstances. It is important that any processes work in an effective and timely manner: Army families can move frequently (indeed, much of the disadvantage they face is due to being highly mobile) and there is little value in a review and remediation process that might take months, or even years, to resolve.
The measurement of success and progress is key to ensure Armed Forces families are supported.
6. The Bill does not contain details of how success and progress will be monitored and measured. This is important to determine whether progress is being made and whether ‘due regard’ is having a positive impact for Armed Forces families. Families will have little confidence in raising issues under the Covenant if the benefits are not clear and apparent, thus undermining the good work and commitment from many public servants that is already in place.
Legislating the Armed Forces Covenant could result in the removal of flexibility to offer the most appropriate support to Armed Forces families.
7. AFF welcomes the move to strengthen the Armed Forces Covenant. However, we are aware that some public bodies and organisations who currently support Armed Forces families as part of the Armed Forces Covenant do so because they wish to support Service families and can offer flexibility in the support they provide.
8. We are concerned that, if legislated, public bodies and organisations may adopt an approach of following the legislation to the letter, removing their ability to be flexible on the assistance that best supports each family. It would be helpful to understand the underpinning Statutory Guidance that will be issued before expanding further on this point.
9. AFF values the aims of the Armed Forces Covenant and the Government’s intention to strengthen this. Whilst the Bill reinforces some elements of the Armed Forces Covenant, we would urge the Ministry of Defence to consider the areas the Bill does not currently address and to mitigate against any unintended consequences to ensure that the Armed Forces Covenant is a meaningful tool that reduces disadvantage for our families. And in all the communications surrounding any changes, we urge a clear message that the Bill aims to remove disadvantage and not provide advantage.
17th March 2021
Written evidence submitted to the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill