When the announcement was made that the decrease in size of the Regular Army was to be compensated for by an increase in numbers of the Territorial Army, many TA and Regular families would have been justified in thinking that more needs to be done before this could work in practice. Jill Baines, AFF Director UK, looks at the future welfare provision…
An issue that comes up frequently at AFF is for TA families to have access to welfare support during deployment, which is difficult enough for spouses of Regular soldiers who live in a Service community. This was summed up at our AFF Families’ Conference, when the issue was raised in an emotional statement from Lucy Bishop, the wife of a TA officer who had deployed. She said, ‘The responsibility is on the family to contact the Army, [but] it’s very difficult to ask for help when you’re trying to give your support. In six months I had no contact with the Army while he was in Afghanistan.’
More work to be done
The issue of welfare support was discussed extensively at our Conference, which not only shows the depth of feeling amongst families and Regimental Operations Support Officers (ROSOs), but also that much work remains to be done before the growth in numbers can be supported. Following Conference, I began liaising with TA units, and visiting where possible to speak to soldiers and their families regarding deployment support. To say I was shocked would be an understatement as responses to my question, ‘How often was your partner contacted during your deployment?’ ranged from ‘Not at all’ to ‘Once, to tell her when I would be home.’
The most eloquent response came from a young unmarried TA soldier who said, ‘Support should be available; it should be a matter of choice whether people access that support, but it MUST be offered’. It would appear that at the moment, if and where it is being offered, not enough of you know about it!
So what can the Army do?
The MOD has been gathering your views and ideas through its public consultation paper, ‘Future Reserves 2020: Delivering the Nation’s Security Together’. Your input will shape Government policy, which will be set out in a White Paper later this year. A summary of the survey’s findings will be available later in the year on the MOD’s FR20 pages via www.army.mod.uk
AFF has submitted a response to this consultation; our evidence has been based on issues which have been brought to us by families, whether that be from surveys we have conducted, individual issues brought to us by families, or evidence which I have gathered during my visits to units and discussions with families. We have also been involved in brainstorming meetings, where representatives from the chain of command, TA and Regular Army have shared best practice to see how, where and when welfare should be provided to the families of the Reserve Forces in the future.
Bringing families together
One of the units who have listened is the Royal Wessex Yeomanry, based in Bovington, but with personnel located all over the South West. The Commanding Officer, Lt Col Chris MacGregor, has asked his staff to work with Mrs Sara Sumner, the spouse of one of his soldiers, to build and market a Facebook group to bring together families, many of whom live great distances apart. Sara became interested in improving the support and camaraderie of TA spouses following her own husband’s deployment to Afghanistan. Social media is an ideal tool for this dispersed family population. The unit is open to many different ideas and is very driven to do the absolute best they can for the families.
What can AFF do?
In some areas of the country we are starting a pilot project (prior to rolling this out to all staff and areas later in the year). Our AFF Co-ordinators will build communication links with families through TA units, providing marketing materials to show soldiers (and hopefully their families) how we can pass on your concerns and push for action. We are asking all TA units in these areas for families’ email contacts so we can send you our AFF ‘constant contact’ information, and hopefully it will encourage units to do the same by sending our regular communications. We will also look at locations and timings of our AFF Roadshows to enable TA families to attend. We need to work hard to encourage you to come to AFF and tell us your concerns. We can then confidently speak on your behalf; to push for the new increased Reserve Force to have the family support at home that most Regular soldiers’ families can rely on.
Talk to us
Those TA families and ROSOs who come to AFF to air their views, share a concern in the Journal Postbag, ask a question at our Conferences or respond to our surveys really want to make a difference. Almost always they state their desired aim as ‘wanting to make sure other families have a better experience’. It’s imperative that the future planners re-writing the welfare book listen to the experiences of those who have gone before.
Enquiries are vitally important to us as we aim to raise awareness of issues facing families of TA personnel, and will become even more so as we move towards a more Reserve-dependent force.
Are you a TA or Reserve Force family or ROSO with a concern or issue? Your suggestions and ideas really can influence how we work in the future. Please contact Jill Baines, AFF Director UK firstname.lastname@example.org, or email AFF UK at email@example.com