Ex-forces personnel are struggling to navigate an increasingly “baffling” social security system and are falling into the cruel trap of the benefit sanctions regime, according to a new research commissioned by the Forces In Mind Trust (FIMT).
Researchers from the University of Salford and the University of York conducted 120 interviews with ex-Service personnel, finding that the current benefit system fails to take into account the complex needs of military veterans.
Participants in the study were found to have insecure employment, with several struggling with debts and rent arrears, and some resorting to foodbanks or “going through the bins”.
Others said they live with embarrassment, shame and resentment at a system they described as unfair and bewildering.
Resaerchers also warn that the introduction and roll-out of Universal Credit has further exacerbated the problems faced by those leaving the Armed Forces and their families.
The report, titled ‘Sanctions, support and Service leavers: Social security benefits and transitions from military to civilian life’, looks at the experiences of ex-forces personnel in navigating the benefit system.
The report lists 12 recommendations on how these experiences can be improved.
These include the need to “to ensure that benefit sanctions are not applied to those Veterans experiencing mental and physical health impairments resulting from Service in the Armed Forces”, the call for “an urgent review of the assessment process applied to those claiming working-age incapacity benefits”, and the need for “each Jobcentre to have one designated individual who takes a lead in supporting the ex-Service community”.
It also calls for fresh “guidance on the UK social security system to be included as part of the transitional support for those leaving the Armed Forces”.
Ray Lock, Chief Executive, Forces in Mind Trust, said: “The evidence from this study clearly shows the need for identification and understanding of the complex needs of the minority ex-Service community who are in need of welfare support.
“The majority of ex-Service personnel make a successful transition back to civilian life; for the few who encounter difficulty, we need to ensure that consistent signposting to relevant support services is achieved and the benefits system is easier to navigate.”
Dr Lisa Scullion, Associate Director of the Sustainable Housing and Urban Studies Unit at the University of Salford, who is leading the project, said: “We found people who desperately did not want to claim benefits and only did so as a last resort, but who found the system baffling and had been given little preparation for dealing with it.
“For instance, it’s well established that veterans are often not prepared for the labour market, so to have to confront conditions like having to take any job rather than something you’ve trained for is a shock.
“Yes, there is significant good practice within the DWP and notably among their Armed Forces Champions, but the variation across geographical areas and even within Jobcentres is worrying.”