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Veteran homelessness in England rises by 14% despite promises of Johnny Mercer, Minister of State for Veterans’ Affairs

In a damning revelation, figures from the Department of Housing have indicated a 14% rise in homelessness among military veterans in England, a situation that contrasts sharply with the government’s pledge to prevent former armed forces personnel from being on the streets this Christmas. The statistics, first reported in The Guardian, show an increase from 1,850 to 2,110 homeless veteran households in the 2022-23 period.

This rise comes despite the Johnny Mercer – the UK Minister of State for Veteran’s Affairs – announcement last year of an £8.8m funding injection aimed at supporting housing places for veterans at risk, under the initiative named Operation Fortitude. The scheme’s goal is to provide veterans with access to supported housing and comprehensive care in health, accommodation, and education.

The Labour Party’s analysis of these figures paints a grim picture, highlighting that 500 veteran households are facing homelessness every quarter.

Veterans Affairs Minister Johnny Mercer, acknowledging the shortfall, stated that while 400 veterans had been housed through Operation Fortitude, there is a pressing need to extend this support nationwide. Mercer vowed to maintain his dedication to addressing this issue as the new year approaches.

The government’s efforts have drawn criticism from various quarters. Steve McCabe, the shadow veterans minister, accused the government of failing the armed forces community. He pointed out the creation of a postcode lottery for veterans, reduced employment support, and an increase in homelessness among veterans compared to the previous year.

Adding to the housing crisis, a recent revelation highlighted that one in three service personnel were living in the lowest-rated accommodation provided by the Ministry of Defence. Luke Pollard, the shadow armed forces minister, has initiated the Homes Fit for Heroes campaign to bring attention to the substandard condition of armed forces accommodation. Labour has pledged to incorporate the Armed Forces Covenant into law, ensuring better access for former personnel to quality, affordable homes.

Dr. Iain Overton of Action on Armed Violence sharply criticised the government’s approach. “The rising number of homeless veterans is a clear indication of the government’s failure to address the root causes of veteran homelessness. Despite the funding and promises, we are witnessing an alarming increase in veterans without homes, which questions the effectiveness of the current policies. This is not just a housing crisis; it’s a crisis of care and support for those who have served our nation,” Overton stated.

The government, meanwhile, insists on its commitment to ending veteran homelessness. A spokesperson emphasised the £8m funding for Operation Fortitude and the provision of supported housing places and specialist care.This situation is further exacerbated by the cost of living crisis, affecting military personnel and their families who increasingly rely on the UK’s estimated 2,500 food banks.

Mercer recently commented that food bank usage was a personal choice for some and not an absolute indicator of poverty levels, a statement that has stirred controversy given the current economic hardships.

As the government grapples with these challenges, the plight of England’s homeless veterans remains a poignant reminder of the need for more effective measures to support those who have served the nation.