The centenary of the end of the Great War was marked last week with national and local events across the country to honour those who fell and those have served in the armed forces in the 100 years since.
Alex Sobel, MP for Leeds North West, is urging that this year of commemoration is also marked by action to improve the lives of people currently serving in our armed forces. He has called on the Government to mark the occasion by ensuring that those living in service family accommodation are provided with secure homes for the future.
“It has been a hundred years since Lloyd George demanded ‘a land fit for heroes’ “, said Mr Sobel. “This 100 year anniversary of the end of the first world war is a chance to reflect, not just on those who we have lost over the past century, but on the way that service personnel and their families are provided for in modern Britain. Service families live transient lives, moving from place to place. This is why it is so important that there are enough decent homes for them to live in.”
In 1996, John Major’s Government sold off 57,400 service family homes to Annington Homes, a private provider run by a Japanese Bank. The Ministry of Defence received 1.67bn upfront for the homes, which were then leased back to them. Whilst this provided an immediate cash injection to the MoD, the long-term picture has not been so positive.
A recently published National Audit Office report found that the increase in house prices means the Government sell off in the 1990s has resulted in around £2–£4 billion in lost revenue, while the MoD are also paying rent for thousands of empty homes. Annington Homes have since sold off 20,000 houses and are looking to earn more money from the homes by renting to civilians in the private sector.
Most worryingly, the contract agreed with Annington Homes in 1996 allowed for a ‘rent review’ in 2021. Now many armed forces families are fearful about a sudden and steep increase in the cost of their housing. New service families are already paying 2020 prices. The 2% increase in soldier’s pay this year, the first in 8 years, may be swallowed up by this increase.
Mr Sobel has supported service families on this housing problem since he was elected last year. He has asked 13 written Parliamentary questions on the subject, and in an oral question asked the defence minister Tobias Ellwood, ‘Does the Minister think that the sale to Annington Homes in 1996 was a mistake?’. The minister’s answer did not directly address the question.
Alex Sobel said, “Many service families are very worried about their housing but fear speaking out. I have a responsibility to give them a voice and I am calling on the Ministry of Defence to hear their voices and act to ensure a standard of decent, affordable homes that serving armed forces families deserve.
The way that military homes have been used to provide profit for the private sector is a scandal, one that is falling hardest on those who risk their lives in service to their country. The centenary commemorations encourage us to consider the role of our armed forces: providing adequate housing for currently serving forces families should be a national priority.”