Politicians from across the political spectrum spoke out about the performance of the armed forces charity sector yesterday after an analysis of their worth was published by The Times. The top 10 military charities in Britain were found to have combined assets worth £1.4 billion though this included property owned by charities that offer housing provision and unrestricted reserves of £275 million. In total there are 1,500 military charities in the UK which have collective assets of £3.1 billion.
Johnny Mercer, the Tory frontbencher presiding over the new Office for Veterans Affairs, said that veterans’ care needed to improve. He said the government should play a role in “helping those charities collaborate with each other, so you reduce duplication and to ensure what the veteran sees is a single, joined-up, successful and effective level of care”. Better coordination would also ensure support was more evenly spread over the country. “What I’m interested in is the duplication of treatment for PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder], or duplication of the provision of housing in certain cities and towns, where you may have two providers in one city, but go 30 miles down the road and there’s nothing, there are homeless veterans.”
Tobias Ellwood, a former Conservative defence minister, said: “There’s an argument for greater synergy, even mergers, but certainly charities working more closely together — particularly with [combining] back-office functions that could free up funds for frontline activities.” He outlined proposals for a single body, which he suggested could be Cobseo, the Confederation of Service Charities, that could be given new powers to enforce more collaboration.
General Sir John McColl, chairman of Cobseo, said that military charities were co-operating across the sector and rejected the suggestion that any of the top 10 were “hoarding” cash. He said that “as austerity bites, service charities are being asked to do more and more”. He added: “Service charity incomes are declining and charities are prudently using their reserves, co-operating across the sector, and strengthening governance in ways that are unprecedented anywhere else across the charitable community.”
Ruth Smeeth, a Labour MP who sits on the Commons defence select committee, said that mental health support for personnel and veterans was her main concern, saying there is a “significant gap in provision” for those on the verge and those needing long-term mental health “maintenance”. Commenting on the level of reserves held by some charities, she said: “It may make it difficult for people to understand why they should be making donations to charity on a regular ongoing basis. Charities need to be clear in explaining what they need and why.”