Catherine Spencer, AFF Chief Executive, looks at some of the barriers Army families face in pursuing a meaningful career and what can be done in the future…

I am delighted that the MOD has launched the Partner Employment Project to explore factors which limit spousal employment. The project is an indication that the MOD has recognised that for greater home ownership and less reliance on Service provided accommodation, the family income must include a substantial contribution from the spouse. AFF will be fully involved by providing evidence and case studies. If you have a view, contact AFF’s Employment, Training, Allowances and Money Specialist, Caroline Mayne, at etam@aff.org.uk

Mobility and predictability
Back in 2009, as a new Director speaking at the AFF Germany Conference, I stated that Army families need two decent incomes to enable them to save for their future and allow them to buy a house. The lack of employment for spouses is exaggerated in overseas locations where access to well-paid meaningful work is limited. Whilst this financially limits the family for the duration of the posting it also has a prolonged effect on experience and pension contributions. It’s not just overseas locations which are to blame. Mobility has long been known as a cause for limiting employment opportunities as has the lack of predictability in the soldier’s work pattern. The non-serving parent is often solely responsible for childcare which means they need to find work which fits around the school day or is lucrative enough to pay for childcare costs. So, whilst rebasing and more stability may improve some of the employment issues, lack of predictability will continue to hamper employment opportunities.

AFF has consistently emphasised the importance of spousal employment, most recently highlighting that when considering where to locate the Army during the rebasing programme, access to employment for the whole family must be considered. Organisations like Recruit for Spouses and SEEN have provided significant practical help to families and have also made the issue more visible to Army command and the Government.

Vital income
Redundancy is another stark reminder of the importance of having two reliable incomes. There’s no doubt that the transition period is made far easier whether leaving the Army if the spouse is also able to contribute to the family income – potentially being the sole bread-winner to financially carry the family whilst the soldier finds a new career.

I recently visited families in Kenya where spousal employment is significantly limited. Those that were working were doing so remotely for companies in the UK. Despite being in receipt of the Local Overseas Allowance, families were very definitely missing their second income and the effect of this will be felt beyond their two year posting as it presents a gap on a CV and limits pension contributions. Some spouses had very wisely signed up to online training courses to make the most of their time overseas.

Following the future flag
To enhance the attraction of an overseas posting I have recommended to command that spouses in locations of minimal employment are able to access substantially reduced fees to training courses. Accompanied service remains highly desirable but we must make sure that we put measures in place which limit the detrimental effect that ‘following the flag’ has on the spouses’ career. It has never been more important to ensure that whilst the spouse supports the soldier in their career, we take action to support the spouse in their career.

Picture © Rod Vaughn

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