Our heroes deserve better homes

Annual National Armed Forces Day 2022
Annual National Armed Forces Day 2022

A good home should be a fundamental part of the promise we make to those who serve our country. But this Conservative government is failing our Armed Forces and their families on a daily basis.

Defence housing has been in chronic disrepair for years, with the Public Accounts Committee highlighting “years of underinvestment.” Ministers handed out multi-million-pound maintenance contracts for service family properties last April, but there has been a torrent of complaints, with service families forced to take to social media to complain of leaks, broken boilers and agonising waits for repairs.

Staggeringly, more than half of the 48,000 service family homes across the UK reported a lack of heating in the last year alone. Service families have made tens of thousands of complaints about the state of their homes. A third of their homes await repair, and service contractors have missed 14,500 urgent maintenance appointments.

The picture isn’t any better for those in Single Living Accommodation, where personnel often live during the week. Four in ten are living in the lowest grade of service accommodation, and there are no minimum standards.

This is nothing short of a national scandal. As Shadow Armed Forces Minister, I have been speaking to personnel up and down the country who bring these shocking figures to life.

An Army wife living in Hampshire said: “There’s a hole in the exterior wall of my 1 year old daughter’s bedroom. I’ve been reporting it for months. You sometimes get a response from maintenance two weeks later, but then you never hear anything. You try to complain and they don’t care.”

Another family in Stafford was without heating and hot water for 47 days last year, and endured seven missed maintenance appointments before it was fixed.

The Armed Forces Covenant – the contract between our society and those who serve - says: “Where serving personnel are entitled to publicly provided accommodation, it should be of good quality, affordable and suitably located.”

So not only are these conditions a fundamental breach of the promise we make to those who serve our country, they are a clear and present danger to morale. More than a quarter of service personnel have admitted that poor accommodation increases their intention to leave the services. At a time of increased threats, this risk to recruitment and retention could undermine our national security.

Labour wants to make defence housing a priority, because we cannot go on treating our brave and dedicated service personnel like this. That is why Labour is launching the Homes Fit for Heroes campaign today, to expose the poor state of service accommodation and take the first step towards delivering the accommodation our Forces deserve.

Labour will give service personnel and their families the opportunity to have their voices heard where this government and its service contractors have failed. Starting today Labour will be visiting forces housing across the UK to hear about their experiences, and work towards a real solution.

Dealing with thirteen years of Tory mismanagement on defence housing won’t be a quick fix. That is why Labour’s Shadow Defence Secretary, John Healey, has commissioned an independent review of armed forces housing, led by Crossbench Peer and former head of the Civil Service, Lord Kerslake. The evidence we collect from frustrated personnel and their families across the country will be submitted to this review, and help shape Labour’s offer to our Forces.

Labour firmly believes Forces and their families should be able to rely on a decent home as part of their contract of service. Today is the first step towards delivering the homes fit for heroes our forces deserve.

Luke Pollard is Labour’s Shadow Armed Forces Minister