Cat Smith column - We have to do better for our veteran servicemen and women

The Final Homecoming Parade through Fleetwood marked the centenary of the end of the First World War
The Final Homecoming Parade through Fleetwood marked the centenary of the end of the First World War

Fleetwood MP Cat Smith highlights the treatment of the UK's veterans in this Remembrance week

I was privileged on Monday to attend The Final Homecoming, Fleetwood’s Community Parade to mark the centenary of the end of the First World War.

After such a moving day on Sunday, when remembrance events took place across the constituency, it was fitting to finish with a special parade that included children, residents, community groups, veterans and serving personnel.

It was an historic event that I was proud to attend with Eli – and huge congratulations to Fleetwood Town Council and all the other organisers for arranging a get-together that celebrated and promoted cohesion, hope and peace.

And in another fitting tribute to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War, the Labour Party has pledged that the next Labour government will give today’s veterans the security they deserve once their time in service ends – providing access to housing, mental health support and retraining. We will guarantee armed forces personnel the opportunity to have a home, to heal and to retrain when they complete their time in service.

The Veterans Association UK has estimated there are 13,000 homeless veterans in the UK. We will reserve homes for people with a history of rough sleeping, we will provide free education and training through the new National Education Service, deliver new career opportunities through increased apprenticeships and ensure mental health issues like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are treated as seriously as physical health issues.

PTSD rates have increased among members of the UK armed forces, new research suggests. The overall rate of probable PTSD among current and ex-serving military personnel was six per cent in 2014-16, compared with four per cent in 2004-06. In June it was reported that as many as 500 soldiers suffering from PTSD are in jail. Around 50 serving or retired soldiers are suspected of taking their own lives this year – an average of one person every six days.

In spite of the best efforts of many of those working in the sector, too many veterans are still not getting the support that they need. The Government’s long overdue Veterans Strategy needs to be far-reaching and properly-funded. It must strengthen the transition phases and implement joined-up thinking to ensure no veteran falls through the net. And it needs to put in the funding so councils and health providers can ensure veterans get the employment, housing and health support they are entitled to.

We all agree it’s important to take time to remember the sacrifice of those who gave their lives in the First World War – but it’s equally important to show respect for today’s veterans and provide them with the tools and support to help them transition from a career in the services to a new life outside the forces.

I’ve been shocked this week to discover Tory ministers have met the fracking industry and its representatives 31 times in the last three years. In the same period, they have not had a single official meeting with anti-fracking campaigners.

The analysis comes after earth tremors in Lancashire since Cuadrilla began drilling at Preston New Road.

The meetings include 13 occasions when ministers met with fracking giant Ineos, and five meetings with Cuadrilla.

It’s a scandal the Government is determined to force through fracking at any cost, against the wishes of local communities. The Tories are working hand-in-hand with the fracking industry while failing to give a fair hearing to local people affected. Fracking has got to stop and the next Labour government will ban it.