As an independent charity, AFF exists to represent your views and present your evidence to the chain of command and decision makers, to help improve your quality of life as an army family. In the last edition we asked for your questions to put directly to the Chief of the General Staff, Gen Sir Patrick Sanders. Thank you to those who got in touch, here’s what he had to say…  

I’m a non-UK family and can’t get my children to the UK due to the minimum income requirement. Can the army help financially support me? – Rai*

I recognise that this is a barrier to accompanied service for some families. The Home Office sets the minimum income requirement to ensure that those migrating to the UK can achieve financial independence; while the MOD does have some exemptions from policy, such as the immigration health surcharge, the minimum income requirement is sadly not currently one of them. I know that Defence is working closely with the Home Office to review how we can better support you.

Will the pay, allowances and other support packages address the inconveniences of army life, particularly spousal employment? – Debbie*

Service life places unique strains on our people and their families – something that I have felt acutely during my 37 years in uniform. To compensate, the army provides a range of allowances and subsidies depending on a soldier’s individual circumstances. Our pay and pensions are also supplemented by the X-Factor to compensate for the routine turbulence, with targeted support available for areas such as commuting, Disturbance Expense and Wraparound Childcare (WAC).

To help with spousal employment, our soldiers now have the ability to work flexibly where commitments allow and initiatives such as co-working hubs have my full support. My sense is that there is more we can do in this area and Director Personnel and his team are developing options to help our families manage their professional careers – both military and civilian.

If, as you stated in your article in the autumn edition of Army&You, “the wellbeing and happiness of service families is fundamental to the health of the army as a whole”, how can families be better supported by their welfare teams? – Nicola

This is an area that I take a real interest in – especially having seen the power of unit welfare teams during my time in command. The support that can now be delivered in unit is first class. The facilities and expertise that welfare teams have access to today have improved significantly since my time at regimental duty in the early 2000s.

Commanding officers remain ultimately responsible for the delivery of welfare support to their soldiers and families. If you feel the support you are receiving is falling below the standard you expect then please engage with them, through the chain of command, so they can guide their welfare staff in addressing specific challenges.

It’s clear that the new housing contracts are failing to deliver, leaving families feeling frustrated and let down. What is the army doing to hold these companies to account? – Kate*

This is a topic that I’m tracking closely – not least as someone who is about to move into Service Family Accommodation that is serviced by the Future Defence Infrastructure Services (FDIS) contracts. The Defence Infrastructure Organisation’s Chief Executive recently wrote to me to admit that the contract is not providing the service we were promised and to apologise for the impact this is having on our people. I have engaged personally with him and other Defence leaders to ensure that they understand the full effect that these failings are having on our soldiers and to ensure that we hold the contractors to account.

Now that rank-based entitlement for army housing is coming to an end, how will the impact on officers’ families, particularly those who are highly mobile, be addressed? – Connie

Our guiding principle is that accommodation requirements for our people will be met on the basis of what they need. This change is driven not only by a sense of fairness, but also to ensure that the MOD remains compliant with HMRC rules.

Regardless of whether the serving family members are officers or soldiers, we will continue to provide subsidised accommodation. We still require large parts of our army to be highly mobile and I’m keen to ensure that the Future Accommodation Model has sufficient flexibility to offer choice, that suits our people’s needs and reflects, where possible, how they want to live.

How will you ensure that families who live in their own homes or off the patch will be well supported when their soldier is deployed? – Lisa

I’m committed to supporting the families of all our people regardless of where they choose to live and Army HQ has established a project team to look specifically at how our welfare teams deliver ‘off patch’ support. I’m determined that the great welfare support now available at unit level adapts as society, and the needs of our people, evolves further into the 21st century.

The Wraparound Childcare scheme doesn’t support families who have a parent in full-time study, even when the study requires work placements as part of the course (e.g. doctor, nurse, midwife). Should WAC be extended to support these families? – Stuart

WAC is a great initiative, but I recognise it does not address all the challenges our soldiers face with childcare. The Chief of Defence People’s team continues to work on how it may be improved in the future so we can support more of our personnel, including those you suggest. More broadly, I have also asked Army HQ staff to better understand the childcare challenges our people are facing and look at what we could do to alleviate some of them.

Are we likely to see regular rotations of deployments in the future like we did a decade ago in Afghanistan/Iraq? – Marie

A great question. While I’m unable to predict the future – and the events of the last 18 months, including our withdrawal from Afghanistan, have shown just how risky any form of prediction is in our tumultuous world, I have been clear that the purpose of the British Army is to protect the nation by being ready to fight and win wars on land. If we judge that regular deployment rotations are required to allow us to meet that need, we will look at them. I am very clear that whatever the posture is we adopt, it must be matched by first-class support for the families of those deployed. There were many lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan around how we supported those who remained at home – we would be foolish to forget them.

What do you think of CGS’s answers? Join the conversation on social at @ArmyandYou or follow this link – to give us your feedback.

Picture: MOD Crown copyright 2022

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