AFTER a busy time right across the constituency last week, I travelled to Westminster to take part in the national Remembrance Service at The Cenotaph.

A few days earlier, I had planted a cross on behalf of our constituency in the Westminster Garden of Remembrance.

This year, Remembrance seems especially important given the desperately tragic events in the Middle East and the ongoing war in Ukraine. It is easy to take for granted that in the UK we live our lives in peace and with all the benefits of a democratic society, including freedom of speech, freedom of the press and the peaceful transfer of power at elections.

But this peace and these freedoms were not inevitable. Generation after generation have fought to preserve these privileges and many have made the ultimate sacrifice to protect our country and to help others around the world without the means to defend themselves.

I am very grateful to the Royal British Legion, and all the other volunteers, who continue to organise and run local Remembrance services to help ensure these sacrifices are never forgotten.

Making the UK a world leader in its support for veterans has been a priority for this government. In 2019 we established a dedicated Office for Veterans’ Affairs with the Minister of State, fellow Devon MP Johnny Mercer, giving veterans a voice at the cabinet table.

In 2021, the government launched Op Courage – a new dedicated mental health and wellbeing service for veterans in England. From April 2022, businesses have benefited from a 12 month National Insurance contribution holiday for employing Service leavers.

And as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, I am working hard to ensure that every Job Centre in the country meets the needs of veterans seeking civilian employment.

To help with housing, the ‘local connection’ rule to access social housing has been changed for veterans to reflect that they may have been stationed in different parts of the country or had long periods abroad. GP surgeries have been encouraged to become ‘Veteran-friendly’ – an accreditation awarded to surgeries that have a clinical lead for veteran health and where staff undertake specialist training on health issues affecting veterans.

The government also delivered The Overseas Operations Act (coming into force in 2021), which has strengthened legal protections for our armed forces when serving overseas.

It is right that our armed forces are held to incredibly high standards but it is also right that we recognise they often have to make split second decisions in the toughest circumstances imaginable.

The Act has helped to protect veterans from being hounded by historic allegations, sometimes decades old.

There is a lot more to do.

For example the government will publish the UK’s first women’s strategy in 2024 to address the specific challenges female veterans face after leaving the Armed Forces.

But I am very proud that this government has done more than any before to support our veterans.

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