POINT OF ORDER
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.