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We must protect the bond between society and our Forces

Submitted by on 17 Feb 2011 – 11:16

By Jim Murphy MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Defence

Defence is a subject too often defined by machinery and conflict, whereas it is in fact just as much about the welfare and reward we give to those prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice for our country and their dependents who support them. The most important thing Governments can do to go some way to repaying the debt we owe them is to make sure those in service and their families are looked after during and after their time in the Forces.

The Government’s decision to massively reduce the value of pensions for soldiers and war widows on a permanent basis flies in the face of this and has rightly been met with anger from Forces, families and charities. In the current climate there is a clear need for restraint in public sector pay and pensions, but Government plans to link public sector pension rises to the Consumer Price Index rather than the Retail Price Index, a higher rate of inflation, will disproportionately affect members of the armed forces compared to people working in the rest of the public sector.

Many members of the armed forces’ pensions start to pay out at a much earlier age compared to other public sector workers and, as a result of the change they will lose hundreds of thousands of pounds over the course of their lifetime. A corporal who has lost both legs in a bomb blast, for example, would miss out on about £500,000 in pension and benefit related payments. War widows, disproportionately reliant on their pension scheme, will also lose out enormously – a 34-yearold wife of a staff sergeant killed in Afghanistan would be almost £750,000 worse off.

Last December, the Government announced the new pension, benefit and compensation rates based on CPI. If this measure goes through, this year a severely injured member of the Forces who has been discharged will lose £120 from their pension. Compensation for specified minor injuries will be £110 less. A widow who has children will receive £94 less on their basic per annum pension. Under the Government’s plans such losses would be felt each and every year from now on. This is nothing more than a breach of trust.

Minister claim uprating by RPI rather than CPI is about deficit reduction, but the impact will be felt long after the deficit has been paid down when the economy has returned to growth. People will find it hard to understand why men and women serving in Afghanistan now will receive poorer pensions in future and why war widows will have their entitlements hit year on year. A fairer alternative would be if the Government were to propose a time-limited change.

Armed forces need to know their government properly values and rewards them and their dependents. That is why, when this measure is brought before the House of Commons, I will be urging colleagues from all parties to oppose it and search for fairer alternatives. I hope the Government will listen. Their dogmatism threatens to weaken the bond between society and our Forces, but it must be protected.