Peter Heaton-Jones MP
Working Hard for North Devon
News Update -
Date: 30th June 2018
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Armed Forces Day
Today is Armed Forces Day, when we all have the opportunity to recognise the enormous debt we owe to military personnel, past and present.
North Devon has a proud and historic connection with our armed services. It seemed appropriate, therefore, to find a special way of marking today. That’s why I organised a debate in the House of Commons on Thursday, in particular to raise the issue of our military veterans.
You can watch the video of my speech, and the Defence Minister’s reply, here (please note this link may not work on all devices):
The centrepiece of our country’s relationship with its veterans is the Armed Forces Covenant, introduced in 2011. It’s a promise by the nation to ensure that those who serve, or have served, and their families, are treated fairly and suffer no disadvantage. It also allows for ‘special consideration’, especially where a veteran has been injured or a family bereaved.
The covenant has achieved a great deal. It’s now embedded in the NHS constitution; the Covenant-funded Veterans' Gateway provides a single point of contact to signpost veterans to the most appropriate support; and all local authorities in Great Britain, as well as more than 2,500 other organisations and companies, have signed up to its principles.
That’s all to be welcomed. But there are areas where we need to ask some difficult questions.
Chief amongst them, I believe, is whether we are doing enough to support veterans suffering from mental health conditions. It’s a growing challenge, and one which we have frankly been too slow to recognise.
On living conditions, we need a more joined-up system. It is good that local authorities who provide housing and social welfare services in our communities have all now signed up to the Covenant. But we must be sure that they are all delivering practical help targeted to veterans in a timely and sufficient manner.
And there is one more difficult question: is it right that our veterans live in fear of criminal charges over events which took place twenty, thirty, forty years ago, in circumstances that most of us can barely comprehend? That’s an issue being fully considered elsewhere, and rightly so.
For now, on Armed Forces Day, let’s ensure we continue to do all we can to provide the help and support our veterans need, and recognise that we owe them a huge debt of gratitude.
I made another speech in Parliament last week, this time about the challenges being faced by farmers in upland areas, particularly Exmoor.
It was a follow-up to the visit to North Devon three weeks ago by the Environment Secretary Michael Gove. It was also an opportunity to highlight the excellent work of the Hill Farmers Network and the National Park who together have produced a strategy document called ‘Exmoor’s Ambition’.
The agricultural community faces uncertainty as we go through the Brexit process. Add to that the challenge of farming in those difficult and often inhospitable upland areas, and you can see why we need to think about extra support.
You can watch my speech, made on Tuesday in Westminster Hall, here:
Conserving our Oceans
One further – but much briefer – appearance in the House of Commons in the past week was during Foreign Office questions on Tuesday.
I used the opportunity of a question about global ocean conservation to highlight the great work being done locally here in North Devon by many schools, charities and community groups. It was also a sneaky plug for North Devon’s beautiful coastline, just as the weather is showing it off to perfection.
The video is here:
Next Wednesday, 4 July, sees the official start of the Universal Credit system in North Devon.
Universal Credit is a vast overhaul of the outdated and complex benefits system of the past. It is a flexible and personalised system which brings six different payments together. It helps both people who are out of work, and those in work but on a low income. And it’s paid monthly to reflect how most people in employment are paid.
I’ve already attended two round-table meetings, bringing together organisations who work with claimants in North Devon. There’s been some concern, but I believe we are now extremely well-placed in our district for when the system goes live on Wednesday.
Claimants who require immediate help can now get an advance of up to 100% of their estimated monthly entitlement before their first payment. Effectively, this removes the wait until their first payment altogether. This goes beyond what has been called for in Parliament and by external commentators.
Claimants are also able to apply for an advance online, making it even easier for people to receive the support they need.
Just because the service switches on the 4th of July does not mean that everybody will move over to UC on this day. It will roll out over time but you will need to be aware of how this new system works.
Below is the link to the YouTube channel which has videos that will walk you through opening and maintaining a Universal Credit account online.
You may have seen the photo in this week’s Journal of the wonderful mural which I had the pleasure of unveiling at North Devon District Hospital.
It’s been created by Flying Fish, a charity in Barnstaple that uses art as therapy to support people recovering from mental health conditions. I’m extremely proud to be their patron and take every opportunity to highlight the brilliant work of this organisation, which is funded solely by voluntary donations.
You can read about the unveiling and see the mural (the bits we’re not standing in front of, that is!) on my website, here:
Peter Heaton-Jones MP
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