Addressing social isolation and disadvantage in the employment sector are among the aims of a new action plan being drawn up by Sheffield Hallam University and South Yorkshire’s four local authorities to help members of the armed forces community.
Representatives from Sheffield, Rotherham, Barnsley and Doncaster Armed Forces Covenant groups met today (Friday 22) to draw up South Yorkshire’s first regional Covenant Action Plan after new research from the University showed 23 per cent of forces veterans’ in South Yorkshire regularly felt lonely or isolated and 55 per cent had experienced disadvantage in the employment sector because of their service history.
The event at Sheffield Hallam was attended by Dan Jarvis MP for Barnsley, Mayor of Sheffield City Region who is himself a forces veteran.
Dan Jarvis, Mayor of the Sheffield City Region said: “Armed forces personnel play a crucial role in protecting our way of life. They do so out of a commitment to our country, and a belief in the value of public service. Unfortunately, that often comes at a huge cost to them and their families.
“Too many of our veterans face challenges when leaving the armed forces and it is vital that we support them in the transition from military to civilian life.
“For some time I have been supporting the important work that Sheffield Hallam University have been doing alongside the armed forces community and local authorities to see how collectively we can better support our veterans. It is important and nationally significant work and I applaud the progress they are making.”
The South Yorkshire Armed forces Covenant project involved academics from Sheffield Hallam University carrying out a regional survey of members of South Yorkshire’s armed forces community. Alongside this staff from York St John’s University, have been delivering military awareness training to over 1,000 front line staff across the region.
The Ministry of Defence’s Annual Population survey estimates 65,000 veterans live in South Yorkshire – five per cent of the county’s total population.
Researchers found many who took part in the South Yorkshire survey were doing well with more than half (52 per cent) being homeowners, and 63 per cent qualified to GCSE level or above.
The vast majority (70 per cent) had more than £1,500 after tax per calendar month to live on; had never been turned down for financial services (64 per cent) and 89 per cent had never had to use a food bank.
More than half (53 per cent) rated their overall quality of working life and their future career prospects in the South Yorkshire region as very good or good and 82 per cent had a high sense of job security.
But more than half (55 per cent) of those completing the survey felt disadvantaged when looking for work due to their service history connections – in direct contravention of one of the key national Armed Forces Covenant expectations that ex forces members should ‘not face disadvantage compared to other citizens in the provision of public and commercial services’.
The survey found 23 per cent felt lonely or socially isolated frequently or very frequently – much higher than the national average of 5 per cent.
Dr Katherine Albertson, senior lecturer in criminology at Sheffield Hallam University, who led the survey, said: “Our survey has underlined that members of the armed forces community face disadvantage in South Yorkshire because of their service history and often experience social isolation.
“This is a group of people who have, in time-bound tradition agreed to put aside some of their basic human rights, causing significant disruption and anxiety to the lives of their families in order to serve their country.
“While South Yorkshire is proud to have members of the armed forces community living here, we still have much to do to make sure their lives are at least as equally rewarding as those who have not served in the military.
“This population’s service history should be treated as a positive not a negative attribute and having a South Yorkshire-wide Armed Forces Covenant Action Plan means that wherever members of this community reside we know they will have access to equitable treatment, care and support.”
She added: “This project is about Sheffield Hallam University working in partnership with others across the region and using our academic expertise to ensure long term health and well-being, economic growth and social cohesion in South Yorkshire.”
The South Yorkshire-wide Covenant Action Plan will be used by South Yorkshire’s four local authorities. The project will be evaluated in July and it is anticipated it will be shared with other regions of the UK.
The project has been funded by the Armed Forces Covenant Fund and stems from work at Hallam’s Helena Kennedy Centre for International Justice. This work has previously included student placements at community services accessed by ex-service personal, which resulted in a project evaluating the recovery of military veterans from addictions.
Helena Kennedy staff were invited to join the Sheffield Armed Forces Covenant group and Sheffield Hallam University signed the Armed Forces Covenant in 2017.
Armed Forces Covenant Groups exist in Sheffield, Doncaster, Rotherham and Barnsley to support military veterans but this is the first time they’ve joined forces to develop a regional Covenant Action Plan.