General the Lord Walker of Aldringham urges the government to reconsider planned redundancies of armed forces personnel.
The Strategic Defence and Security Review makes several thousand armed forces personnel redundant. Whilst I strongly disapprove of these manpower reductions for a nation of our size and with our commitments, the blueprint is taking shape. We do not yet know what the new structure will look like, but it is clear that a number of front line units in all three services will have to go. The average age of many of these units sits in the 18 to 24 bracket and there will be some thousands of young servicemen and women being put out of work, adding to the national figure of over one million in this age group who are unemployed. Concerned by this overall number, the government last year announced an investment of £1Bn towards their education and employment.
It is intended that the part-time territorial army (TA) will be recruited to some 30,000 to backfill many of the roles that are currently carried out by full time professionals. Perversely, this means that as full time professionals are made redundant they will have their roles taken up by individuals who have not one but two jobs, two paymasters and two wages.
These servicemen and women have been highly trained through a costly system at tax-payers' expense. They have been trained for war – a training that does not necessarily read across directly to other professions and for many it is the only training they have had since leaving school. Notwithstanding the general qualities that a military training inculcates – such as self-discipline, integrity, self-confidence, loyalty and respect for others – these young people are going to find it as difficult as their civilian peers to find alternative employment.
The nation also has a moral duty to this young generation of service folk. Unlike their civil counterparts many will have served recently in Afghanistan, putting their lives on the line for their country. Indeed the death toll over the last few years shows how many young men and women have had to sacrifice their lives or be seriously maimed in support of their government's policy. Powerful words are properly used to extol their dedication, determination and courage in the face of uncertainty, separation from family and to recognise that they conduct themselves with dignity and compassion in the face of extreme danger. The nation says it places a high value on what they do. But, however true these words, they must seem very empty to this cohort.
There is a simple solution that could be applied to this group. Allow redundancy for those who volunteer, but for those who do not wish to leave the services allow them to remain – if necessary in a different role – either by allocating some of the government's £1Bn or by under-recruiting the (yet to be recruited) TA or a combination of both. The design has not crystallised - there is time to remedy this grossly unfair and shameful absurdity – and we should do so.