August 04, 2020

United Kingdom Veteran Landscape

By Emma Moore, Kayla M. Williams and Zachary Jaynes

Executive Summary

A close history of collaboration in national security and diplomacy between the United States and United Kingdom leads to many similarities between military personnel of both countries, both during and following service. These similarities mean both countries have much to learn from one another regarding best practices for supporting the military community broadly, despite differences in political systems, governance, and cultural norms. The United Kingdom’s veteran support landscape is sometimes considered behind that of the United States, in part due to the sector’s smaller size; however, the robust nature of the U.K.’s welfare state, combined with renewed engagement from the government, have led to significant progress in recent years. U.K. charities fill gaps in areas the government does not serve, while corporations look to recognize veteran skill sets and challenge existing societal narratives of service. The unique role of the Royal Family and Royal Foundation adds a nationwide focus on mental well-being with a key focus on the armed forces community.

U.K. charities fill gaps in areas the government does not serve, while corporations look to recognize veteran skill sets and challenge existing societal narratives of service.

This landscape analysis provides an overview of support for veterans in the United Kingdom to better understand how the United States’ closest ally supports veterans from a government, charity, and corporate perspective. In addition to examining the efforts of each sector’s support for veterans, this analysis examines the status of veterans across the United Kingdom’s devolved nations. Key findings include:

  • The charity sector is fairly collaborative, and many involved share a desire to make it better coordinated.
  • While the government incentivizes and provides benchmarks for corporate veterans support, not all companies know how to support veterans substantively.
  • The government is taking a leading role to better coordinate and facilitate services.
  • While nationalized health care means all can receive care, the National Health Service (NHS) is working to make veterans’ care more targeted and culturally competent.
  • Additional work to change public perceptions of service members and veterans is needed.

Introduction

The United States and United Kingdom have a long-standing collaborative relationship economically, diplomatically, and militarily. The British Armed Forces regularly deploy alongside the U.S. military, including in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the two countries benefit politically from a “special relationship.” Shared history and joint deployments mean there are many similarities between the service experience of personnel from the United States and United Kingdom. Yet differences in political systems, governance, and cultural norms toward the armed forces lead to a U.K. veteran support system that is both more collaborative between government, charity, and corporate actors, and less comprehensive in service offerings than that in the United States. Furthermore, U.K. charitable and government support hold different roles because the U.K. welfare state provides health care, education, and other critical support for all citizens, including veterans. While government-provided health care and education exist for veterans in the United States, they are premised on need, and the sizable nonprofit sector fills in the gaps.

Differences in political systems, governance, and cultural norms toward the armed forces lead to a U.K. veteran support system that is both more collaborative between government, charity, and corporate actors, and less comprehensive in service offerings than that in the United States.

The United Kingdom’s veteran landscape is sometimes considered less developed than the United States’ “sea of goodwill,” lacking the same amount of available resources, social support and awareness, and grounding in research. However, efforts to better fund and coordinate the space in recent years have seen significant collaboration and cohesion. The United States’ veteran-serving ecosystem has advantages of size, scale, and a charitable infrastructure supportive of funding gaps in government services. Conversely, that of the United Kingdom has an advantage of being much smaller and able to collaborate more effectively through close ties with government and industry. London serves as a central hub for England, Scotland, and Wales, though Scotland has robust veteran support through its local government. Due to its recent and fraught history with the British Armed Forces, Northern Ireland has an underdeveloped veteran charitable sector.

Efforts to better fund and coordinate the space in recent years have seen significant collaboration and cohesion.

Across sectors in the United Kingdom, support for veterans has seen progress in recent years. Following a 2014 review of veterans transition, the U.K. government became much more active in supporting veterans. The government launched the Armed Forces Covenant in 2016, the Strategy for Our Veterans in 2018, and an Office of Veterans Affairs in 2020, all of which provide strategic and whole-of-government support for the armed forces community. These initiatives come after criticism that the government was not doing enough to support veterans; its efforts now are largely seen to be moving in the right direction. Corporate supporters are pushing to recruit more veterans into their workspaces while challenging dominant negative stereotypes. Finally, the charitable sector (often called the “third sector”) is realigning its resources and refocusing its priorities as engagement in the Middle East winds down and the government provides centralized coordination.

Recent trends in the United Kingdom veteran support space include:

  • The charity sector is fairly collaborative, and many involved share a desire to make it better coordinated.
  • While the government incentivizes and provides benchmarks for corporate veteran support, not all companies know how to support veterans substantively.
  • Government is taking a leading role to better coordinate and facilitate services.
  • While nationalized health care means all can receive care, the NHS is working to make veterans’ care more targeted and culturally competent.
  • Additional work to change public perceptions of service members and veterans is needed.

This analysis first examines the status of veterans across the United Kingdom’s devolved nations. It then provides an overview of the veteran landscape in the United Kingdom to better understand how the United States’ closest ally supports veterans from a government, charity, and corporate perspective. The analysis of each sector’s support for veterans and conclusions are based on a substantial literature review as well as interviews with numerous charities, corporate actors, and government representatives.

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  1. “United Kingdom” is used broadly as a shorthand throughout this report, though many trends primarily pertain to Great Britain.
  2. Sima Kotecha, “Care for UK military veterans is 'flawed', medical experts say,” BBC News, October 29, 2014, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-29807947. Dawn Foster, “They’ve suffered enough. But now veterans are battling universal credit, too,” The Guardian, October 18, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/oct/18/veterans-battling-universal-credit-mental-illness-homelessness; Richard Norton-Taylor, “Iraq and Afghanistan veterans deprived of long-term support, say MPs,” The Guardian, October 30, 2014, https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/oct/30/veterans-deprived-long-term-support.

Authors

  • Emma Moore

    Research Associate, Military, Veterans, and Society Program

    Emma Moore is a Research Associate for the Military, Veterans, and Society Program at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). Moore is a Non-Resident Fellow at the Brut...

  • Kayla M. Williams

    Senior Fellow and Director, Military, Veterans, and Society Program

    Kayla M. Williams is a Senior Fellow and Director of the Military, Veterans, and Society Program at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). She previously served as Dir...

  • Zachary Jaynes

    Former Intern, Military, Veterans, and Society Program

    Zachary Jaynes is a former Joseph S. Nye, Jr. Intern for the Military, Veterans, and Society Program at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). Zachary is a Junior at ...

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