Richard Rosser reminds us that Saturday's Armed Forces Day is a time to celebrate the courage of serving personnel and veterans
This Saturday is the seventh annual celebration of Armed Forces Day, which until 2009 (four years after its introduction by the previous Labour government) had been known as Veteran’s Day.
The celebration will provide us all with an opportunity to mark and express our thanks and gratitude for the commitment and courage of members of the armed forces and veterans alike. They have protected and continues to protect our country, whether through service at home or abroad.
We remember in particular those who have made the ultimate sacrifice and given their lives. At the present time, we think especially of those who have been killed in Afghanistan, and their families and close friends. We also need to remember those who have been seriously injured on active service. The euphemism used is that they have suffered “life-changing injuries”. Put bluntly, that means they will never be able to do many of the activities that are a part of everyday living - activities that the rest of us take for granted.
If we want an example of what “life changing injuries” mean, we had it yesterday from Ben Parkinson – a soldier who lost his legs and suffered brain and back injuries when his Land Rover was blown up in Afghanistan. Ben was on the TV news yesterday bravely walking with the Olympic torch for 300 metres through his home town of Doncaster. It took him 25 minutes to do this, but he made it displaying the determination he had shown serving his country.
Ben was applauded and cheered on by a great many well wishers. There is still evidence however, that our armed forces at times face discrimination. Whilst public support for our armed forces is high, a recent report has revealed one in five have experienced strangers shouting abuse at them while wearing their uniform in public in the UK in the last five years. 18% meanwhile, have been refused service in hotels, pubs or elsewhere.
Members of our armed forces have also said that their inevitable regular changes of address can count against them in credit checks, and more than a quarter said they had been refused a mortgage, loan or credit card in the last five years. A leading recruitment agency specialising in service leavers and veterans has also reported discrimination against veterans.
Labour has called for urgent cross party talks to end discrimination against our Armed Forces, and if necessary the introduction of new legal rights. And the principles of the Military Covenant, which were enshrined in the Armed Forces Act last year, must also be upheld.
My colleague Denis Tunnicliffe pressed Ministers this week for their assessment of the levels of discrimination against serving and former members of our Armed Forces. In addition, I have a question today (Thursday) on the level of financial or other support they are providing for Saturday’s celebration. Together, with colleagues across the Labour Party, we will ensure that our active service personnel and veterans are not forgotten, and that the contribution they have made to the security of our country, sometimes at appalling personal cost, continues to be recognised.
Lord Richard Rosser is a member of Labour’s Shadow Defence team in the House of Lords