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Social Justice

‘It’s despicable:’ Veterans frozen out of pandemic support

Veterans have told the Big Issue they are being shut out of Government help during the pandemic as their armed forces pensions exclude them from getting support

British Army veteran Cheryl Jones served her country for 22 years, including in conflicts in Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq. 

For the last decade she has run a successful pet-sitting business, but when the pandemic hit and the country was plunged into lockdown, Cheryl, like many others, was forced to shut up shop. 

The 52-year-old thought that after serving in the armed forces the Government would step in and help but after pleading with ministers, her MP and local councillors for 11 months, she still hasn’t received the support she needs. 

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“I’ve been in some countries where a lot of people would not want to go,” Cheryl told The Big Issue. 

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“I gave 22 years of my life to help this country keep its freedoms and everything that goes with the democratic country that we live in. To not be helped by the Government during a pandemic was a kick in the teeth for me.”

Cheryl’s army pension, which she says isn’t enough to live on, means she is unable to access a cash grant through the Government’s Self-employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS). She also cannot claim Universal Credit or Job Seekers Allowance. 

As many as three million people across the country are thought to be unable to access pandemic support packages. A spokesperson from ExcludedUK, a campaign group formed to support people shut out from UK Government support during Covid-19, told The Big Issue they were working with a “large number” of veterans. 

According to a report by the Federation of Small Businesses, there are approximately 340,000 small businesses run by ex-military personnel in 2019. 

But ExcludedUK said veterans were falling foul of the so-called “50 per cent rule” which states those earning less than 50 per cent of their income from self-employment cannot receive support. 

This was the case for Cheryl, who received just over £10,000 from her army pension, making up 54 per cent and leaving her unable to access a grant. 

“My profits were just short. If it had been the other way around, if it was 54 per cent with the self-employment, then I would have got 80 per cent of my earnings but I didn’t get anything, not a penny. It’s despicable,” Cheryl added. 

After 11 months of uncertainty, Cheryl has received a small allowance from her local council but says she still doesn’t believe she has been given any “meaningful” support. 

A spokesperson for the Department of Work and Pensions told The Big Issue “recognises the sacrifices” of armed forces veterans and said the Government is committed to supporting the armed forces community.

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Adele Gerrard, from Lincolnshire, is another veteran who has been locked out of state assistance. 

The 58-year-old served in the RAF for 23 years, which took her all around the world. She also owned a pet services business, which became “unsustainable” and was forced to stop trading during the first lockdown. 

“I was just going into the third year of business and [for] most of the Government help you have to have been in business for three years,” she told the Big Issue. 

“I had constant outgoings but nothing coming in and you just can’t sustain that.”

Adele is now working 28 hours a week for a high street chemist carrying out Covid-19 testing in the community, but she is on a temporary contract and fears she won’t be able to claim support when the job comes to an end

“We’re not eligible for Universal Credit because we get a pension from the RAF. It’s not massive and it doesn’t cover all the bills, which is why I’ve got to have a job somewhere doing something. 

“But that locks you out of Universal Credit and because I was a director of a limited company I couldn’t have furlough. Every avenue you tried, you just got blocked.”

Despite her RAF skills and training, Adele said it was proving difficult to find more secure work. 

“It’s worrying and a bit frustrating because I’m a fit person and I know what I’m capable of but people will look at you and go ’58, yeah, we’re looking for somebody in their 30s’.” 

Adele believes that if she was awarded a Government grant it would have saved her dog walking business, describing it as “frustrating” she has been shut out of support. 

“I think there are still some of my customers that are hoping to go away later this year and I’ve got a number of former customers who would like to come back to me if they can get away. 

“But at the moment that’s all the unknown. It’s possible that some parts of the business would be able to come back but I no longer have any money to put into it. My £10,000 savings is down to £2000. That’s all there is between me and nothing.”

The next support grant for self-employed workers is not expected until the budget on March 3, with Excluded UK urging Chancellor Rishi Sunak to “fill the gaps” in the scheme.

Veterans can receive help through the Veteran’s Gateway, a 24-hour helpline, website and app run by experts to help with issues such as finances, housing, employment, relationship, physical and mental health. 

Daniel Elser, assistant director of Veterans’ Gateway, told the Big Issue: “The Covid-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on people’s livelihoods and way of life across every sector of society, including the armed forces community. 

“We encourage anyone within the armed forces community who would like support and advice to contact Veterans’ Gateway. We have a team of experts on hand available 24/7 who can help.” 

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said: “The Department recognises the sacrifices made by the brave men and women who serve in our Armed forces, and is a proud supporter of the armed forces covenant.

“As part of our commitment to supporting the armed forces community, our networks of DWP work coaches and armed forces champions are in place to ensure that the support, guidance and advice offered reflects their needs, and all work coaches receive training on armed forces issues.”

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