Is Wales doing enough to support veterans?

(Title Image: BBC Wales)

This week’s short debate was led by Darren Millar AM (Con, Clwyd West) on the support offered to veterans in Wales, particularly in terms of accessing housing.

Progress, but more to be done

Despite what you might’ve thought once seeing who was leading the debate, Darren complimented work already being undertaken by the Welsh Government and local authorities in terms of veterans’ affairs.

Wales was the first nation in the UK where every council signed up to the Armed Forces Covenant and many councils have set up new services or shared best practice. He commended the work of Change Step (based on Colwyn Bay) and the Woody’s Lodge social hubs – one based in Colwyn Bay, the other in the Vale of Glamorgan.

If there was one area that needed more work, however, it was homelessness and issued caused by the need for a proven local connection when applying for social housing:

“….in answer to the question that my debate poses today, ‘Housing our heroes: are we meeting the needs of our veterans here in Wales?’, my answer is, ‘No, not yet, but we’re making good progress’. So, what needs to change?

“Well, I believe that we need statutory guidance that’s applicable to all registered social landlords, not just local authorities. We need to crack this issue of the local connection criteria once and for all by waiving any requirements for a local connection for anyone leaving service family accommodation, including military spouses or dependents, and we need to honour our heroes by giving them additional preference in all Welsh Government housing schemes, including shared ownership schemes and Rent to Own Wales.”
– Darren Millar AM

Mark Isherwood AM (Con, North Wales) praised a veteran’s self-build scheme in Wrexham – undertaken by the First Choice housing association – as an example for others to follow, but he called for better integration between housing, health and care for people leaving military service.

Veterans ID card “might help”

Deputy Minister for Local Government & Housing, Hannah Blythyn (Lab, Delyn) said the number of veterans presenting themselves as homeless was as few as 3 per year – but many veterans may not disclose their military background, which is why a veterans ID card might help.

“The Welsh Government has made its view very clear that it’s important service personnel who have been seriously injured or disabled in action, and who have an urgent need for social housing, should be given high priority within local authority allocation schemes in recognition of their service. I understand that all local authorities have additional preferences for veterans, and preventing homelessness for everyone is a priority for this Government.”
– Deputy Minister for Local Government & Housing, Hannah Blythyn

£500,000 will be provided to extend armed forces liaison officer posts within local authorities for a further two years. The Welsh Government was also considering changes to “priority need” in social housing allocations – though the Deputy Minister stressed the importance of fully understanding the unintentional consequences of making changes.