Lisa Nandy MP: Our Armed Forces deserve better
Lisa Nandy is the Labour MP for Wigan
Parliament returns after the Easter recess and one of the first major debates on the timetable is the government’s proposed cuts to the armed forces, which were announced earlier this month as part of the Prime Minister’s “Global Britain” plan.
The planned reductions will take the army to its smallest level in 300 years. Nearly 45,000 personnel have been cut from the armed forces since 2010 and now the government is proposing to cut another 10,000.
Recently retired generals have said that further cuts to the army would mean the UK is no longer taken seriously as a military power.
Yet only last month the government set out the major threats the UK faces from traditional warfare as well as new forms of cyber-attack, interference with democracy and chemical weapons - which were used on the streets of the UK only three years ago. On its own assessment, this is not the time to weaken our defences.
But after a decade of mismanagement the defence budget has a £17 billion black hole in its equipment budget and the Ministry of Defence is facing cuts to its day-to-day expenditure.
This lost decade is the reason we have to choose between meeting traditional threats or new ones.
We should not be in this position. It was only just over a year ago, during the 2019 election campaign, that the Prime Minister promised there would be no reduction in the armed forces.
His broken promises extend way beyond personnel numbers.
After nearly a decade of pay freezes and caps the government are handing our armed forces yet another real terms pay cut. A lance corporal in the army will see their pay cut by £445 while an RAF sergeant will lose £610. Defence personnel aren’t just struggling with pay, but with family life, morale and service life. When they leave the armed forces far too many veterans are left without the support they need, with many ending up homeless and struggling with their mental health.
Thankfully in Wigan the council recognised the need to fill these gaps for the estimated 22,000 service men and women who return to the borough after service, and three years ago Wigan’s Armed Forces Community HQ opened to support veterans with all of their needs.
It has been a lifeline for many veterans who have approached me for help in recent years.
While MPs can fight for better treatment and help with benefits, housing and healthcare, Molyneux House always go the extra mile to make sure people know they are not alone.
How we treat our armed forces matters, while they are serving our country and afterwards. This is an important debate, which we are determined to have this week, despite protests from the government.
In recent months, it has been inspiring to see our armed forces helping to construct hospitals, deliver PPE and support the national roll out of the vaccine.
These are the everyday heroes who have kept our country going, the armed forces, the NHS, the postmen and women, delivery drivers, food production workers, transport workers, carers and so many others who have gone out every day at personal risk to help others.
Every week, more grubby details emerge of people who have made big profits during the pandemic through dodgy contracts and close connections to Government.
It shows a government that has got its values all wrong.
Just like the nurses who the government applauded, and then handed a pay cut, our armed forces deserve to see promises kept, and we will fight, this week and every week, to ensure they are.