Boris Johnson has been urged to protect the budget of a dedicated unit to support armed forces veterans that was set up in the Cabinet Office less than two years ago.
MPs examining the armed forces bill yesterday heard that a proposal exists to cut the budget of the Office for Veterans Affairs from £5m to £3m because it has spent only £1.6m of its budget so far this year.
Defence Select Committee chairman Tobias Ellwood used a subsequent Liaison Committee session to ask the prime minister to “revisit” the budget cut proposed for the office, which was launched in 2019 and fulfilled a Conservative Party general election manifesto pledge from two years before.
Johnson insisted that the funding reduction was not a done deal, but did not deny it was an option on the table. He also went on to stress the separation of the Office for Veterans Affairs from government funding streams that supported veterans.
“There’s no decision that has been taken about the Office of Veterans Affairs and the spending on veterans is, after all, not primarily through that office although [veterans minister] Johnny Mercer and his team do an outstanding job,” the prime minister said.
“We spend up to £18m through the NHS on specific mental health services that are targeted at veterans, £10m to support veterans’ mental health charities and we have National Insurance rebates that subsidise those that hire veterans as well as cut-price transport… free transport for veterans on public transport.”
Johnson said the transport funding initiative was something he had pioneered as mayor of London and was “very proud” to have brought into national government.
Melanie Walters, chief executive of the Help for Heroes charity, said reports of the budget cuts proposed for the OVA were “very concerning”.
“We campaigned successfully for the OVA in 2019 as we knew the government needed to do more to fulfil the nation’s promise to all those who have served,” she said.
“Following a year where requests for support have risen but charities have faced significant drops in regular income, this would be yet another set-back for wounded veterans.”