Conservatives and Labour unveil plans to help military members

Peter Walker Political correspondent
Photograph: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP via Getty Images

The Conservatives and Labour have used Armistice Day to unveil competing packages of proposals to help military personnel and their families, with offers including a veterans’ railcard and a pay rise for the armed forces.

The Labour proposals were centred around improving pay and conditions for serving military staff. A commitment to increase pay as part of the scrapping of the public sector pay cap were among five pledges announced.

The party said the cap meant an army private had suffered a 5.8% cut in real-terms starting salaries since 2010.

The other commitments were to improve housing for service people and their families, with less reliance on privately rented homes; a Police Federation-style representative body for personnel; an end to other privatisation within the military; and improved access to schools for children of force members, who often move area frequently.

In a statement released with the announcement, Jeremy Corbyn said: “Real security requires decent pay, decent housing, support for our armed forces and their families, and a way to get their voice heard.

“Our forces should not have to put up with pay cuts, substandard housing, difficulties accessing school for their children or face the uncertainty of relying on outsourced providers.”

The Conservative proposals include more thorough childcare for service families to take account of long working hours, including breakfast clubs and after school clubs. The party hopes this will assist recruitment and retention, particularly of women.

For service veterans, the party would promise an interview for any role in the public sector they apply for, while private businesses would get a year free from national insurance contributions for ex-service people they employ.

The new railcard would give holders a third off train fares.

In comments released by the party, Boris Johnson said: “These measures will mean more childcare support for those who are currently serving. And it will mean that we harness the enormous contribution that veterans can make to our businesses and public sector organisations.”

The Conservatives said more job support for veterans was needed, given a British Legion survey that showed ex-service people of working age are almost twice as likely to be unemployed as their peers in the general population.

The party also cited a survey by armed forces charity, the SSAFA, showing that 31% of recruiters said they would be reluctant to hire someone who had been in the military, with a perception they were more likely to be aggressive.

The Conservative party has previously announced it will seek to protect ex-soldiers from “vexatious” legal claims under human rights laws, by legislating to stop civilian laws operating during military operations.

The government has previously announced plans to prevent veterans from being sued, by preventing prosecutions for alleged offences that took place more than 10 years ago, for example, and opting out of the European convention on human rights (ECHR) in future armed conflicts.

Some service families have said such a regime could prevent soldiers or their relatives from suing the military over issues such as equipment failures or other potential negligence.