Thursday, 2 February 2017

Rise in service veterans on our streets prompts questions from Morecambe MP David Morris

Morecambe and Lunesdale MP David Morris has challenged the government on the number of homeless military service veterans on the streets in the UK - and the response led us to figures that depict a shocking rise in homeless numbers in the North West - and veterans suffering mental health issues.

In a written question to the Secretary of State for Defence, Mr Morris asked what estimate his Department has made of the number of (a) homeless veterans and (b) veterans experiencing mental health problems; and whether each of those issues is supported by the Armed Forces Covenant.

In response, Mark Lancaster provided a link to an earlier response on homeless veteran numbers provided by the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State and Minister for Local Government Marcus Jones made to Liverpool MP Luciana Berger in 10 November 2016.

Noting "one person without a home is too many" and that "homelessness robs families of their future, safety and self-worth," Mr Jones reported that, according to data gathered by the Greater London Authority some three per cent of individuals seen sleeping rough in London alone are UK nationals with a history of service in the armed forces.

(A search for those recent figures for Greater London reveals that between October to December 2016, outreach teams for CHAIN - a multi agency database recording information about rough sleepers and the wider street population in London - recorded 1,299 people in London sleeping rough for the first time. Of these, 1,022 (79%) spent just one night sleeping rough,  241 (19%) slept rough for more than one night but did not go on to live on the streets, and  36 (3%) were deemed to be living on the streets).

"This is still too high, and no way to treat our veterans, said Mr Jones. "We are committed to fight for all those who have fought for us. All local authorities in England are signed up to the Armed Forces Covenant, ensuring they support the needs of their armed forces communities. We have committed over £500 million to tackle homelessness over the next four years as set out at the last Spending Review."


Homelessness charity Crisis notes there is no national figure for how many people are homeless across the UK. This is because homelessness is recorded differently in each nation and because many homeless people do not show up in official statistics at all.

However, according to the latest national figures, collected in the autumn of 2016 and published in January 2017, 4,134 people are estimated to be sleeping rough nationally on any one night.

Using data from four sets of official 2016 statistics to compile what it describes as a "conservative" total, last December the charity Shelter estimated more than a quarter of a million people are homeless in England, although the government challenges the findings.

If three percent of the homeless are service veterans in London alone, this means there could be up to 7500 homeless veterans nationally.

Homeless Link's analysis of the data indicates this was an increase of 16% from 2015 to 2016, while since 2010 rough sleeping estimates show an increase of 134%.

While the East of England has seen the biggest percentage increase in rough sleeping since last year (44%), this is followed by the North West (42%), the East  Midlands (23%) and the North East (18%), all of which have seen increases in rough sleeping above the national average.

Shelter's estimated total number of people recorded as being homeless in the North West suggest some 3953 people are living in temporary accommodation, 220 are rough sleeping, 1782 are in homeless hostels, 318 are in social services temporary accommodation - totalling 6,273 people in all.

That suggests around 190 homeless could be service veterans in the North West.

In 2016, the government renewed action tackling the homeless, giving support to the Homelessness Reduction Bill, to reform England’s homelessness legislation and ensure that more people get the help they need to prevent a homelessness crisis in the first place.

They also announced a £40 million Homelessness Prevention Programme to ensure there is an end-to-end approach to prevent homelessness and rough sleeping, and provide the support people need to recover from homelessness.

Mental Health Issues for Veterans on the Rise

Last month, the Ministry of Defence announced 473 soldiers were discharged from the Armed Forces for “mental or behavioural” reasons in 2015-16.

Sue Freeth, Chief Executive of Combat Stress noted the figures revealed by the Ministry of Defence showing increasing numbers of service personnel leaving the Armed Forces with medical discharges is also echoed by the charity's data.

"We have found a rise in the number of veterans seeking support from Combat Stress after being medically discharged from the military," she said.

“In the last five years we have seen a 71% increase in veterans seeking support for mental health issues and that they are seeking support more quickly. While the reasons for this are unclear, it could be due to the reduction in stigma that is resulting in more ex-servicemen and women feeling able to come forward for treatment and sooner. It could also be that we are starting to see a small but significant increase in the number of veterans with mental health issues."

"In the UK, primary responsibility for the provision of healthcare, including mental healthcare, for veterans rests with the NHS in England and the Devolved Administrations," noted Mark Lancaster this week in his response to Mr Morris. "The Ministry of Defence provides advice, information and signposting to support services for veterans though its Veterans UK web pages and free telephone helpline service.

"We encourage veterans wishing to seek help with mental health problems to visit: www.gov.uk/mental-health-support-for-the-uk-armed-forces or call the 24-hour veterans' mental health helpline on 0800 138 1619.

"The £10 million per annum Covenant Fund makes grants to support the Armed Forces community and has funded projects across all four countries in the UK to support veterans with complex needs," he added. "This includes grants made through the Veterans in the Criminal Justice System programme; and the Veterans Gateway programme."

Due to launch later this year, the £2 million Veterans Gateway programme will help veterans find and access advice and support on a broad range of issues, including healthcare and housing. This new service will provide a 24/7 phone number, a dedicated website and a mobile app.

Lancashire & District Homeless Action Service

Lancaster and District Homeless Action service (LDHAS) is the leading homeless charity in the Lancaster region

Combat Stress

Veterans mental health charity. 24-hour Helpline (0800 138 1619)

Greater London Homeless Figures - PDF

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