§ Baroness Serota
asked Her Majesty's Government:
What progress has been achieved by the Government's Veterans Initiative since it was launched a year ago. [HL3337]
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Bach)
Since the announcement of the Veterans Initiative and the appointment of my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence as Minister for Veterans Affairs one year ago, we have made substantial progress towards meeting the objective of the iniative: to build-up a partnership with veterans' organisations and other government departments to develop an integrated response to veterans concerns, focused in particular on the most vulnerable.
We have been considering how we can improve the service offered to our veterans from within the department. Capitalising on the transfer of the War Pensions Agency to the Ministry of Defence in June of 145WA last year and on its excellent record for customer-service, we have decided that the War Pensions Agency should provide a special focus for our support to veterans and that accordingly, with effect from 2 April, it should be renamed the Veterans Agency. As a first step towards giving substance to this change of name, the Veterans Agency will, from the end of this month, provide an integrated web-site and free-phone helpline that will be the first point of contact for veterans seeking advice and information. For the longer term, we will also be looking at the future development of the War Pensioners Welfare Service, and in particular at the possibility of expanding partnerships with the charitable sector to improve the support delivered in this area by offering a better co-ordinated service.
Working through the Veterans Forum and Ministerial Task Force, we have agreed an action plan and nine working groups, made up jointly of representatives of the veterans' community and of interested government departments to take work forward. 'These are now addressing the particular concerns identified within the initiative's core themes of partnership, identity, recognition and care. This work includes developing new resettlement training for the most vulnerable of our service leavers who are at greatest risk of social exclusion, the development of material for the new key stage 3 and 4 scheme for citizenship to be part of the national curriculum from September 2002, improving communication between government and veterans, recognition of veterans' achievements in more recent years and problems faced by the veterans charities' care home. The working groups will be reporting their progress to my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence in time for the next meeting of the Veterans Forum and the Ministerial Task Force in April and May respectively.
We are also taking steps to address two of the particular concerns that veterans have raised about the war pensions scheme. From this April, the provisions for war widowers will be equalised to bring them fully into line with those currently available to war widows. Further, we plan to introduce measures from August that will guarantee that a war pensioner can return to unemployability supplement within the first 12 months of starting work.
We place a particular premium on the partnership that we have been building with the representatives of the veterans organisations and are pleased to acknowledge the considerable part that their positive response has played in enabling us to take this initiative forward. We look forward to building on this partnership to develop and deliver a significant programme of further improvements for the future.