Section 3: Responsive to need and collaborative in approach
‘Better Understanding Comes from Better Communication’
Evidence from Organisations and Published Sources
Public Bodies – coordination, sharing best practice, Covenant duties
Many local authorities in Scotland have developed policies and practice to support veterans and their families and ensure that they are meeting the Covenant duties of due regard in the areas of health, education and housing. Each local authority has an Armed Forces and Veterans Champion whose terms of reference have been updated to reflect the legal status of Covenant duties. NHS Boards in Scotland also each have an Armed Forces and Veterans Champion, appointed on the same basis.
Local authorities and NHS Boards do not yet have a verified figure for the number of veterans in their area, something that will change when more detailed census information is released this year.
Policies differ across the country and good practice is not always identified and shared. Awareness of the Covenant – which aims to prevent disadvantage for those who have served and their families - is inconsistent among both service providers and the veteran community. Even where policies exist, front line service providers do not always apply them consistently.
“Better communication between different parts of the system is needed and more continuity across Scotland would be beneficial.”
Campaigning work by Poppyscotland and Royal British Legion has highlighted disadvantage experienced by some disabled veterans. Veterans who have an illness or disability due to their Service which is recognised by compensation in the form of a War Pension (WP), or Armed Forces Compensation Scheme (AFCS) payments can experience inequity if they are also accessing state benefits.
Calculation of income can include or disregard income from WP or AFCS depending on which benefit is being accessed, for example those on Universal Credit will have their entire WP disregarded, while those on Pension Credit will only have £10 of their WP disregarded.
However, with other benefits such as Housing Benefit, Discretionary Housing Payments, and the Scottish Welfare Fund there is also inconsistent treatment of WP and AFCS payments across Scottish local authorities. This was evidenced by a Freedom of Information request made by Poppyscotland which revealed that only 10 Scottish local authorities fully disregard WP and AFCS when making benefit calculations.
The Forces Children’s Education website provides a wealth of information and resources for teaching professionals, other stakeholders and families living in (or moving to) Scotland.
Using key network groups, the Association of Directors of Education (ADES) National Education Officer, who facilitates and maintains the Forces Children’s Education website, is building up a picture of the current issues. The various networks in place across Scotland and within local authorities enable best practice to be shared, to improve the support for children and young people of armed forces and veteran families. Groups such as the Armed Forces Families Lead Officer network (AFFLO), representing all 32 local authorities, can cascade information to all schools and Early Learning and Childcare (ELC) settings and to local authority departments, to raise issues or concerns and to promote good practice.
This is informed at local authority level by data through the Armed Forces Families Indicator which was added to the Data Management System for Early Years settings and schools in 2015. When children are enrolled in early learning and childcare settings and schools (Primary, Secondary and Special) or when their information is routinely updated, parents or carers have the option to notify if their children are from ‘Regular’, ‘Reserve’ or ‘Veteran’ families.
The ADES collects data annually on the armed forces children’s population in Scotland. This is the sole source of authoritative information in Scotland and is used by a range of stakeholders.
Skills Development Scotland provides enhanced support in schools for young people from military families and the Scottish Funding Council supports access to Further and Higher Education for veterans and their families. Some local authorities with military bases, such as Highland and Moray Councils, have enhanced support for pupils from armed forces and veteran families.
Veterans and Volunteering
Veterans have a great deal to contribute to society and are often valuable supporters of military and civilian organisations. Scotland has a vibrant voluntary sector supported by Volunteer Scotland and voluntary sector infrastructure bodies. There is good evidence that volunteering is beneficial to volunteers. From goodwill to great impact: Maximising the benefits of volunteering, a recent report by the British Heart Foundation, expresses this. This may be particularly true for veterans who miss aspects of military life such as camaraderie and service which may not be present in their civilian lives.
Time Well Spent, a survey by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) on the volunteer experience, said “People volunteer to make a difference and because they are connected to the cause, group or organisation they choose to volunteer for.” Thus, there is a win-win scenario in making efforts to engage veterans more in the voluntary sector: the sector will gain motivated, capable volunteers and veterans can reap the benefits of carrying out diverse and rewarding voluntary work.
Veterans form the backbone of volunteers for many ex-Service organisations and military charities, and they make a significant contribution to the overall voluntary sector in Scotland. As a charity funded by the Scottish Government, Volunteer Scotland could play a key role in ensuring that the wider benefits of volunteering and volunteer roles are promoted to veterans and their families. Their recent policy briefing paper highlights a decline in volunteer participation, and this may be a gap that veterans would be well placed to fill.
While volunteering is not the focus of transition, consideration of finding voluntary work alongside a civilian career could assist Service leavers to find new community connections and retain some of their service-led identity while they return to civilian life.
Collaboration is increasingly employed amongst organisations supporting veterans, and the military third sector in Scotland is fortunate to have an effective coordinating body in Veterans Scotland which plays a vital role in promoting collaboration and cooperation.
There are good examples of constructive public sector collaboration. The Scottish Veterans Wellbeing Alliance, led by NHS Lothian, has brought together 20 partner organisations to pool resources and provide better, more responsive support. North and South Lanarkshire Councils join with partners in a Covenant Delivery Group; while other local authorities use the Firm Base model. Glasgow City Council has partnered with SSAFA to form the effective Glasgow’s Helping Heroes initiative. However, not every part of Scotland has the same commitment and a more consistent approach to sharing best practice would reap benefits for both service providers and the veteran community.
Personal Testimony to the Commissioner
Veterans and families have been clear that having to tell their story repeatedly or provide the same information on multiple occasions is frustrating and stressful for those seeking to access support or services. This is particularly challenging if the background is difficult to speak about or if the nature of the need is urgent.
The requirement for records, information, and services to be more joined up across geographic and organisational boundaries was often expressed.
Data Protection legislation is vital to protect everyone’s personal information but concerns about privacy can prevent support reaching the most vulnerable people. Data protection laws were not written to ensure that lonely and isolated individuals remain lonely and isolated and there is usually a lawful way to retain a connection with an individual in need. An example of this is where bereaved spouses and partners can be cut off from support, however the RAF Widows Association has developed a lawful way to ensure that the bereaved can remained connected should they wish.
I also heard from veterans in receipt of War Pensions and from support providers such as Poppyscotland and the Armed Services Advice Project (ASAP) about the application of disregards when calculating means tested benefits which is inconsistent between local authorities in Scotland.
With respect to children, I heard of good examples of best practice in some local authorities, such as in Highland and the work underway in Moray Council. However, I was told that this support could be patchy between and within local authority areas and it becomes particularly challenging for families where children have additional support needs.
In several meetings, the lack of childcare provision was raised with me. While this is an issue across Scotland, I was told the challenges are particularly acute in some areas. This means there are barriers for spouses and partners of serving personnel and for veterans in taking up second careers, with provision either not available at all or what is available and accessible, may still limit employment choices.
Listen to Fijian veteran Virginia speak about the challenges of her own transition to civilian life in Scotland, and being a working mother while her husband continues to serve in the Army
What can be improved
All relevant public bodies should ask whether someone has served in the UK armed forces, which will help identify veterans when delivering services. This will enhance the richness of the data available and enable tailored support to be provided when and where it is needed.
Public authorities in Scotland need to know where veterans and veteran families are, with systems and process that support the capture and transfer of that information.
“It’s all very well employers signing the AF Covenant but the pledges and commitments made don’t always find their way down the hierarchy. Many front line staff are completely unaware of what the Covenant means.”
Better training for front-line public-sector staff regarding the armed forces Covenant and how it applies to veterans and their families is needed. An understanding of the needs of veterans and why these needs may differ from the civilian population is key to delivering the support and services they require. Most members of the veteran community want only fair treatment and not special treatment. There needs to be clarity about what this means for both providers and recipients.
Public authorities should be able to share best practice in the support of the veteran community. Notwithstanding the varying density of the veteran population in local authority areas and economic and geographic disparity, it should be possible to determine and share the most effective policies and practices.
Veterans on low incomes with chronic illness or disabilities are some of the most vulnerable in our community. Where their health has been injured in the Service of our country, they should be supported financially in a consistent way that does not depend on which part of Scotland they reside. When public bodies in Scotland are calculating means tested benefits, it is essential that there is clarity and consistency across agencies and local authorities in the application of disregard. For UK wide benefit schemes, the Scottish Government is urged to use what levers it can to remedy any inconsistency.
- Report home
- Introduction and approach
- Section 1: Veteran and family empowerment
- Section 2: Understanding, recognising, valuing and supporting diversity
- Section 3: Responsive to need and collaborative in approach
- Scottish Veterans Commissioner Recommendations