[Ed: this is Part One of the transcript of the speech given by Henry Bolton at the launch of UKIP’s Campaign ‘Save our Services’. Part Two, touching on PESCO and Border security, will be published here tomorrow.]
Fact: Charities estimate that there are some 7,000 homeless veterans on Britain’s streets.
Fact: In the year 2016/17, some 6,500 homes were given to asylum seekers.
Fact: At the beginning of November the Home Office proposed moving extremists to the top of council housing waiting lists, helping them into education, training or employment and referring them to the NHS for mental health treatment.
Given the situation regarding our homeless veterans, such a suggestion is simply outrageous!
And you know what, there is an alternative: change the law! The Treason Act should be taken out of the Public Order Act and made fit for purpose against returning Jihadi fighters. If they have British passports and have been fighting for, or in any way providing support to this country’s enemies, the answer is not to give them preferential treatment over our own veterans, but is to prosecute them as the traitors they are.
The human cost of serving our Armed Forces is clearly not only paid in blood, pain and anguish on the battlefield. It goes well beyond.
Think for a moment: 7000 homeless servicemen equates to just under 1 in 10 of the entire strength of the army. Now of course not all homeless ex-servicemen are former soldiers, some are former sailors, airmen and marines, but that 1 in 10 figure gives some idea of the scale of the problem.
It’s not just the individuals themselves who are affected by this. It’s the broken marriages and the anguished parents.
And when one sees that homelessness is generally caused by unemployment we can understand that the problem becomes a broader one. Particularly in a country that has, through its education policies, created a two tier workforce: those with degrees and those, increasingly but wrongly considered as second class, without.
Approximately 3.2% of Armed Forces personnel suffer from mental health related issues. The rates in the Army are higher than those in the Marines which have a higher rate of combat readiness and preparedness. Additionally, the rate has almost doubled since 2007 when selection procedures were more rigid and more training was given. This indicates that the more training that’s provided, the better prepared the individual is for the general mental stresses of military life. This suggests that MoD cost-saving cutbacks in training are having an impact on the welfare and safety of our servicemen as well as more obviously compromising combat effectiveness.
UKIP is clear on the urgent need for a Veterans Administration, headed by a minister.
This will provide a single point of contact in relation to healthcare, housing, counselling, education, training rehabilitation, hospital care, access to financial services and benefits.
A UKIP government would build eight veterans’ hostels, each with 200 rooms and modelled on similar hostels already in operation. We would also build 500 affordable rent homes every year specifically for ex-forces personnel.
We would guarantee the offer of a job in the police, prison service or border force for anyone who has served in the Armed Forces for a minimum of 12 years. We will secure our borders, get more police on the streets, have safer prisons and, unlike the Conservative government, we would honour the Military Covenant.
Armed Forces Recruitment
Armed Forces recruitment is a significant challenge, but easily solved. All three services are failing to hit their recruitment targets by around 10%. The MoD gives many reasons for this: for example pay and conditions and less physical fitness and grit amongst younger people. Whilst these are indeed issues, the biggest problem is the outsourcing of Armed Forces recruitment to private companies.
This outsourcing has significantly harmed Armed Forces recruitment. Whereas twenty years ago you could get into the military within only 3 or 4 months after expressing an interest, it can now take a year or more.
Outsourcing company Capita, which has run Army recruitment since 2012 is paid around £44m a year for a 10 year contract and yet, in that time, recruitment has become an ever greater problem.
A UKIP government would end outsourcing of recruitment, returning the recruitment function to the Armed Forces themselves, as always used to be the case.
In terms of Gross Domestic Product UK defence spending was 2.85% of GDP in 2000. But since the Conservative Government came to power, defence spending has been in steady decline, breaking below 2.4 percent of GDP for the first time in 2016.
Lt Gen Ben Hodges, commander of the US Army in Europe, said the UK would be unable to keep up its international commitments if forces were cut further. Lord Dannet, former Chief of the Defence Staff has said that General Hodges remarks are “timely and well founded”.
Other senior military figures are constantly warning the Conservative Government that their cuts are seriously harming our military capability and I, as a former Chief Planner for the EU’s Common Security & Defence Planner, echo their concern. The UK, in military terms, is significantly weaker in both strength and capabilities, compared to other states, than it was 10-15 years ago.
In order to find internal savings to keep things going, the Ministry of Defence is continuing to sell off assets, intending to sell 30% of its built-on land (barracks etc). Whilst this will release public sector land for 55,000 new homes to be built, it will make any future enlargement of the armed forces difficult and expensive as there will be no barracks to accommodate the personnel and new ones would have to be built. And these things can only be sold once.
In addition, because the Ministry of Defence has failed to apply HM Treasury rules properly, the Treasury has imposed a £31.6 million fine on the MoD. That’s like a bank charging you for a letter telling you that you are overdrawn!
The Army is now at 78,000 soldiers, down from 102,500 in 2010. Main Battle Tank strength has been cut by 40 per cent (Britain now has fewer Main Battle Tanks than neutral Switzerland) and there has been a 35 per cent cut in self-propelled artillery.
Together, the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy have suffered more than 10,000 job losses. The Ministry of Defence is now planning to sell HMS Ocean, HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark, thereby ending the UK’s ability to conduct amphibious landings, and around 1,000 Royal Marines are likely to be axed (1/6th of the entire Royal Marine force).
There are those that will undoubtedly argue that in the modern world we do not require large Armed Forces. Let’s look at that for a moment:
The conflict in Eastern Ukraine has been characterised by the use not only of lightly armed irregular forces, but also by the use of Multi-Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS) and main battle tanks. I know. I was there for 4 or 5 months. Signals intelligence and jamming along with cyber-warfare have been employed constantly. The simple fact is that British Armed Forces may still be called upon to fight in any scenario. It’s an uncomfortable truth for this government that not all wars are like that we fought in Afghanistan.
I have served in the Regular and Territorial Army, as a tank soldier, infantry and intelligence officer for a total of nearly 20 years. I have spent the subsequent 20 years in places such as Kosovo, Macedonia and Helmand alongside my military colleagues. Since I joined the army in 1979, I have seen the massive downgrading of our military capabilities compared with those of other states.
Cuts in training have demoralised our Armed Forces and reductions in full spectrum capabilities have left the nation unprepared to face present, let alone emerging threats.
In the context of BREXIT, these reductions are of grave concern.
UKIP would phase in increased defence spending during its first five years in power, up to an additional £5 billion by 2027. We will rebuild our Armed Forces and restore them to their rightful place among the most professional, flexible and effective fighting forces in the world, able to meet the security demands of the modern era and react appropriately to any threat that the UK faces both now and in the future. In forthcoming months our detailed plans will emerge.
[To be continued tomorrow, including the statement on PESCO.]