It has been a few weeks since my last blog and while much has happened across the world and here in the UK, in some ways things still seem remarkably the same. The lockdown is being eased but is not over yet. Numbers of new cases and deaths from Covid-19 have declined but the virus is still with us, and all of us and our families are still being hugely affected by this pandemic.
As we look back on Armed Forces Week – which, like many other major events over the past few months had a very different look to it this year – I wanted to highlight what some of our veterans have been doing during lockdown. We have all seen the pictures of Service personnel assisting with delivering supplies, building Nightingale hospitals and carrying out testing, but our veterans have also been busy during this time.
You may have seen a series of videos on my social media platforms last week, showing Scottish veterans who have been volunteering with local charities, helping out in their communities, and providing support to other more vulnerable veterans. These video clips can all be seen here. But I know there are many other veterans across Scotland who are ‘doing their bit’ and I would like to thank them for all they have been doing.
My own recent work has been producing an Interim Progress Report – an ‘at-a-glace’ look at how the Scottish Government and its delivery partners have been making headway with the recommendations from the four in-depth SVC reports – covering transition; housing; employability, skills and learning and health and wellbeing.
I felt it was important at this time to ensure government and its partners maintain a focus on areas where there is already little doubt that increased efforts will be necessary as the country moves into recovery. I would encourage you to have a look at the report which offers a standard RAG (red, amber, green) rating, and is my independent assessment on how well government is doing against each recommendation from the reports.
While progress in some areas has not been as rapid as I would have liked, in many cases this has been due to re-prioritising of staff and other resources due to the pandemic. The report does however indicate some real progress in certain areas. One example is in setting up a Scottish Veterans Care Network, which will have a number of challenges in the coming months, including developing a Veterans Mental Health Plan. Other areas of success are in housing, where much work has been done on improving information for those Service leavers wishing to settle in Scotland.
However, no one can be unaware of the huge challenges ahead of us all as we move towards the recovery stage. The effects of the first half of 2020 will be with us all for many years. Not least the economic impact of the pandemic and its effect in areas of employment, skills and learning. There is no doubt there will also be challenges across the health and social care sectors, in particular in the area of mental health. It is vital that we get on the front foot now, and that the Scottish Government and other decision makers take into account the specific needs of Service leavers and the wider veterans’ community as they start to develop their policies. I am determined to do all I can to ensure they keep the veterans’ community firmly in their minds as they do so.
Let us hope that the virus is in retreat and over the next weeks and months we can start to get back to something approaching a more normal life. But for now, I urge you to continue to follow the Government’s guidance – Stay safe, protect others, save lives.