The cutting of 17 army units by 2020 was never going to be popular. It is over-dramatic to suggest we now have a self-defence force rather than an army, but the loss of 20,000 regular soldiers will clearly have an effect on the UK’s ability to wage war. And yet the cutting is the easy part. The test for the government (or the next) is how they tackle the consequences.
One of these will be large-scale redundancies among ex-soldiers and support staff. Has anyone thought about this? We already know that unemployment and mental health problems are an issue among veterans and that many end up in prison. This is a disgrace. Jim Murphy is proving himself a class act as Shadow Defence Secretary and he well this week to launch a scheme to support veterans back to work in partnership with employers such as Greggs and John Lewis.
But so much more needs to be done. Too often within our culture we treat our ex-serviceman as if they have just come out of prison. We fail to recognise the qualities and skills they may have developed in the forces. I have touched on this in my Jewish Chronicle column this week.
Speaking at the Labour Friends of Israel annual lunch this week, Ed Balls recognised that the UK has much to learn from Israel’s high-tech success story. In part this has come about as the result of harnessing the energy of young people leaving the Israeli Defence Force after military service when many start up their own businesses. There are initiatives to do the same here, such as Heropreneurs. But it is far from systematic.
There have been a number of excellent start-up charities that have emerged to help injured veterans over the past few years. I recently met the brilliant people from Row2Recovery who raised money by rowing the Atlantic. The same passion now needs to go into start-up businesses to get veterans back to work.
So here’s an idea. Why not recruit young unemployed people, including veterans, to record the testimonies of ex-serviceman and woman from recent conflicts? This would provide them with media skills to make them more employable, help build understanding of the reality of military conflict among young people and help boost the morale of returning veterans.