While it is positive that the Government has shown its intent to improve the lives of disabled people through the publication of its National Disability Strategy, we remain concerned by the limited consultation process which raised many serious accessibility issues for disabled people.
We have largely examined the strategy from a veteran’s perspective – with the wounded, injured and sick, and their families in mind – and feel it would have benefited from more direct and formal consultation with the Armed Forces Community.
We welcome the veteran specific initiatives, which includes the pilot of the Access to Work adjustments passports scheme. We also welcome that more employment opportunities will be provided for disabled service personnel and veterans in the Defence sector, as this will be an attractive career route for many.
That said, we are disappointed by the lack of recognition given to other services, such as health and social care, which veterans and their families need to access. There are still significant gaps in support for those who have been medically discharged which need to be addressed if the Government is sincere about providing the best support for veterans who cannot remain in service due to their injuries.
The strategy also presents no solutions to the challenges disabled veterans face in other aspects of their daily lives which prevent many from finding employment or leading fulfilling lives. For instance, there is very little mention of hidden disabilities, such as mental illnesses, PTSD, chronic pain and other non-physical disabilities which many veterans struggle with. There are also ongoing issues with how disabled veterans experience the social security system and the unique barriers they face to accessing statutory support.
The strategy rightly identifies adaptive sports as a means of aiding rehabilitation. While there is a lot be learned from the progress made with wounded veterans in adaptive sport over the past decade, largely through the Help for Heroes Sports Recovery programme, there is still a lot of work to be done to drive engagement and overcome barriers to access which have been exacerbated during the pandemic. For many, participation in sports and recreational activity often requires the provision of specialist mobility equipment and we deeply regret the recent loss of the Veterans Mobility Fund. We look forward to being consulted with by the Office for Veterans’ Affairs to provide our insight and best practice, as part of the MOD’s commitment in the strategy.
Overall, many of the areas relevant to this strategy are delivered across all sectors of society, including the core areas of transport, education and housing, which are of course devolved matters. While the strategy recognises that different approaches have been taken on some issues to optimise local support, it does not fully consider the implication of the inconsistency this creates across services, or that different interpretations of the strategy may prove to be problematic for many members of the veteran community.