The Shocking Tale of the “Unpensionables”

The Unpensionables

On the 12 June 2012, the MoD made 3000 service personnel redundant.  My brother was one of them.  He, like many others, (eighty according to recent reports), was made redundant within a year of reaching his immediate pension point – 82 days short to be precise, having served three tours on the front line, the second of which saw him waving goodbye to his wife , twins of two and month old baby son.  (That may sound like someone getting all emotional about an issue. And it is.  This is my kid brother who is being treated unfairly and concerns the welfare of my sister-in-law and my niece and nephews.  The cuts just got personal.)  A small number within this group, in typical army style, have already coined a collective noun for themselves, summing up their predicament beautifully…”The Unpensionables”.   

Now, I wasn’t particulary happy about my little brother joining up.  But I recognised that this was the job he had always wanted to do.  I watched him play at soldiers, go to cubs, scouts and then cadets…polishing his boots for hours ….ironing his trouser creases….tripping over his big bag of kit when he was home from a weekend yomping on some windswept, muddy moor, (my idea of hell!)….then the TA….then university, finally earning his place at Sandhurst. 

I appreciate now the hardwork and dedication it took to get his place there without any external help or family influence.  Sheer hardwork and determination.  So whilst I wouldn’t have chosen this career for myself, I certainly understood how much it meant to him.  The camaraderie, the challenges and yes accepting the possibility and responsibility of being asked to take another human being’s life or risk your own. 

When he and his fellow officers first graduated from Sandhurst they were all young men doing the job they loved and probably didn’t really concern themselves with the thought of pension points and the like.  However, as the years went by, they got married, had families, and the pension point became something of a milestone to reach, particularly when on active service and in planning their lives and the lives of their families when they eventually left the army.

 Blackadder returns

At the back of my mind, I believed the modern British  Army rhetoric.  This was a professional army. An army that took on the best and promoted the best.  An army that looked after the welfare of its men and women and their families.  Then this happened.  Deemed surplus to requirements within a whisker of achieving the pension point he had been working towards and which he had signed a covenant of service for, a covenant he had agreed to risk his life for, again and again and again. 

How could this happen in an army which professes to repect and honour its soldiers?  Should I really be surprised given the fact our politicians have been so quick to send our armed forces to war? Now so quick to get rid of them as a cost cutting exercise?  Where is the committment to the army covenant now?  Where are the Honourable men and women of Parliament now?  Who is standing up to say this is wrong, wrong, wrong, clearly, morally, wrong.  What are the senior “gold braid” army generals doing about this shoddy treatment of the men and women they have commanded and sent into battle zones to risk their lives? 

It feels like a return to the bad old days where the senior officers, and politicians back home, sat in their comfortable bunkers or cabinet offices,  sipping on champagne and nibbling on their foie gras as they sent the troops over the top.  Think Blackadder, but without the laughs.  This time its “over the top” and “on yer bike” and down to the the dole queue, given that these men and women are being sent back to a civvy street conjested with high unemployment.

The Military Covenant – ripped up

Soldiers differ from civilian employees because success in military operations, when the price of failure may be death, requires the subordination of the rights of the individual to the needs of the task and the team, albeit within a legal framework.’ (MoD, 2000)

The Military Covenant is an unspoken pact between the military and society. A covenant is not a law, but an understanding reinforced by custom and convention (MoD, 2000, Sparrow, 2008). In the United Kingdom, the term has received increased attention following the publication of ‘Soldiering – The Military Covenant’ by the Ministry of Defence in April 2000 which formally codified it. This has generated discussion of the extent to which the government and society at large have maintained their responsibilities to the nation’s Armed Forces (Military Covenant Commission, 2008). The Covenant has received attention not least because of Britain’s long term engagement in Iraq, and its continual presence in Afghanistan. 

Now, whether you agree with government foreign policy or not.  Whether we should be meddling in unwinable wars in Afghanistan or the Middle East or not.  For me, this is simply a case of fairness, natural justice and upholding the military covenant my brother and his colleagues signed up for some 16 years ago.  This is about ensuring fair treatment for the men and women who serve the nation. Whether it be , fighting our wars, or policing our Olympics.

For those in the army these pension points are extremely important.  They are the constants towards which they work and they are the payback for their families who worry about them on tours of duty and how they are going to mange financially when they eventually leave for civvy street.

Clearly we live in difficult financial times.  Many people are being made redundant in different industries and in different sectors.  However, I don’t know of any other job that you sign up for a set amount of time, and agree to risk your life in exchange for certain pay and conditions.  There is definitely a case to be made as to why these army redundancies are “different” to civilian redundancies and why the pension issue is of such crucial importance. 

What can be done about this unfair situation? 

I believe these redundancies do not honour the military covenant or original employment contract between soldier and the MoD. These men and women, including my brother, have all faithfully served in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces and repeatedly risked their lives on different tours of duty, with the expectation that, when they completed their period of service, they would be eligible for a pension on which to build a new life for themselves and their families. To rip up their contracts, days and months before their immediate pension point is neither fair nor just, surely two of the very principles we placed our service men and women in harms way to uphold.  Given future planned redundancies in the forces this issue is likely to affect many more service personnel. 

The men and women in the army are unable to protest,  bound as they are by army rules.  This does not stop their friends and families and right-minded members of the public from doing so on their behalf.  

I believe this is a winnable battle.  If we can raise enough votes, get MP’s listening, we can have these cases reviewed and this wrong righted.  Morale within the armed forces is at an all time low because of these cuts.  And its going to get lower and lower if the redundancies are not handled with openess and fairness.   Please sign the petition if you agree and pass on to your friends and family to do the same.  Every vote counts.  Thankyou. P

 

 

 

 

 

 

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