POINT OF OR­DER

The Sentinel - - NEWS - Phil Cor­ri­gan – Po­lit­i­cal Re­porter

TO­MOR­ROW we will see the en­tire coun­try pause to mark 100 years since the end of the First World War.

This year’s Remembrance Sun­day will be the cul­mi­na­tion of four years of events com­mem­o­rat­ing the so-called Great War, a dev­as­tat­ing (and some would say point­less) con­flict which took the lives of 20 mil­lion peo­ple, in­clud­ing hun­dreds from North Stafford­shire.

Un­for­tu­nately, what ought to be a time of solemn remembrance and re­flec­tion has been tainted by the in­creas­ingly bit­ter row over pop­pies.

Out­rage over peo­ple not wear­ing a poppy, or wear­ing the wrong colour poppy, now seems to be an an­nual tra­di­tion in this coun­try. In Stoke-on-trent the brouhaha has had a lo­cal an­gle, due to Stoke City foot­baller James Mc­clean’s re­fusal to wear a poppy-adorned shirt.

The Ir­ish­man’s per­sonal rea­sons for shun­ning the poppy have been writ­ten about ex­ten­sively, in this news­pa­per and else­where, and so it’s not worth go­ing over the de­tails again.

But the fact is that no­body should re­ally need to ex­plain to any­one why they aren’t wear­ing a poppy. It should be left en­tirely to in­di­vid­u­als how they ob­serve Remembrance, and it’s sadly ironic that ‘poppy fas­cism’ has be­come so closely as­so­ci­ated with the oc­ca­sion.

It’s also ironic that the very peo­ple who get the most up­set about in­di­vid­u­als ex­er­cis­ing their free­dom to wear or not wear a poppy would prob­a­bly be the first to com­plain about ‘po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness’ or ‘virtue sig­nalling’ in oth­ers.

But there are other is­sues re­lat­ing to pop­pies and Remembrance which are per­haps more de­serv­ing of peo­ple’s anger.

The poppy ap­peal raises nearly £50 mil­lion for the Royal Bri­tish Le­gion each year, rep­re­sent­ing about a third of its an­nual in­come. Much of this money is spent on pro­vid­ing much-needed sup­port for serv­ing ser­vices per­son­nel, veter­ans and their fam­i­lies.

But should our veter­ans need to rely on a char­ity – al­beit a well-sup­ported char­ity – for such im­por­tant ser­vices? Shouldn’t it be the Govern­ment’s re­spon­si­bil­ity to en­sure that every­one who has served their coun­try is looked af­ter prop­erly?

The Govern­ment does pro­vide some sup­port for exser­vice per­son­nel, in­clud­ing the Veter­ans’ Gate­way, which is a ‘sin­gle point of con­tact for veter­ans seek­ing ad­vice and sup­port’. Armed forces per­son­nel, both serv­ing and for­mer, are also pri­ori­tised for coun­cil hous­ing.

But the fact that there are at least 13,000 home­less veter­ans in the UK, as the Daily Mir­ror re­ported ear­lier this year, sug­gests that the Govern­ment could do a lot more. A sur­vey in 2010/11 found that three per cent of peo­ple sleep­ing rough in Lon­don had pre­vi­ously served in the armed forces.

No­body should end up on the street, but peo­ple who have served in the forces can be par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble to fall­ing through the cracks in so­ci­ety.

While many peo­ple will gain di­rec­tion, con­fi­dence and valu­able skills dur­ing their time in the forces – at­tributes they will be able to put to good use on Civvy Street – there are oth­ers who will not be so for­tu­nate.

‘ Should our veter­ans need to rely on a char­ity – al­beit a well-sup­ported char­ity – for such im­por­tant ser­vices?

They will leave the forces with scars, both men­tal and phys­i­cal, which may stay with them for the rest of their lives. And, as many sign up when they are lit­tle more than chil­dren, some may have dif­fi­cul­ties func­tion­ing as adults out­side the reg­i­mented life of the Army, Air Force or Navy.

Ear­lier this year the Govern­ment an­nounced it in­tended to erad­i­cate all rough sleep­ing in Eng­land by 2027. Given how big a prob­lem street home­less­ness is, this may be a lit­tle un­re­al­is­tic. But I think that en­sur­ing that ex-ser­vice per­son­nel never end up in this con­di­tion is en­tirely within the bounds of pos­si­bil­ity.

It’s right that we pay trib­ute to our fallen sol­diers, who lost their lives in ser­vice to this coun­try. But per­haps we ought to do a bit more for those for­mer sol­diers who are still alive. In­stead of the man­u­fac­tured poppy rage, which in­sults the mem­ory of our war dead, we should be get­ting an­gry about the way we treat our veter­ans.

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