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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 January 2007, 19:43 GMT
Forces housing 'must be improved'
Picture of barracks sent in by soldier
Last year 700m was spent upgrading accommodation

The government has acknowledged more needs to be done to improve housing for the armed forces following criticism of conditions by a senior army officer.

Adjutant-general Lt Gen Freddie Viggers condemned cramped and decaying living quarters in barracks, saying soldiers and their families deserved better.

Defence Minister Derek Twigg said he accepted accommodation was "not perfect" and improvements were needed.

But shadow defence secretary Liam Fox said more commitment needs to be shown.

Standard of living

Dr Fox claimed "people were beginning to leave the Armed Forces because they feel they will get a better standard of living outside".

"We don't seem to be making the commitment to them as they are making to us. There seems to be something fundamentally wrong there," Dr Fox said.

His comments on BBC News 24 came after Conservative leader David Cameron told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the government should be doing more and that the Tories planned to announce a "manifesto for forces families" addressing issues such as housing and education.

Gen Viggers, in charge of the welfare of British soldiers, became the second senior officer to speak out publicly on the issue after BBC News received photographs showing cracked walls, mildew and broken pipes in barracks.

Picture of barracks sent in by soldier

"The issue we have is that there is still too much accommodation which is of a poor standard, which is old, and which is not modern in the way it's fitted for families," Gen Viggers said.

"It's a key issue in what we call the military covenant - giving our soldiers and their families what they deserve in return for that they do for us."

Last month, outgoing Army head Gen Sir Mike Jackson said some forces accommodation was "frankly shaming".

Jennifer James, the mother of a young soldier, said: "We treat prisoners better than our soldiers."

It's a key issue in what we call the military covenant - giving our soldiers and their families what they deserve in return for that they do for us
Lt Gen Freddie Viggers

Her son complained about the smell, puddles and leaking toilets, which left many soldiers feeling "depressed and demoralised", she added.

But the Ministry of Defence has defended its record, saying much of the accommodation it provides is of a high quality.

"We accept there are serious problems...we're working hard to deal with that which isn't up to the high standards we set," a spokesman said.

He said 95% of service families' accommodation was rated as one or two on a four-point scale, where one is best.

However, almost half of single living accommodation was graded four - at 48.6%.

This was being addressed with a 1bn Single Living Accommodation project, the spokesman said.

New barracks
1bn is being spent over a decade to improve barracks

The MoD manages 49,000 houses and 150,000 single living units across more than 200 sites in 16 countries.

In 2005/6, 1,705 of the family homes were upgraded and this year another 1,200 will be modernised.

Over the next decade 5bn will be spent on improving forces accommodation, the spokesman added.

Forces' manifesto

Mr Twigg accepted that improvements were needed quickly.

"We recognise there is a challenge, we recognise that the accommodation is not perfect and that we need to improve it," he said.

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell said it was hypocritical of the government to hail the professionalism and commitment of the armed forces while failing to look after them properly.

'Lives on the line'

Douglas Young, of the British Armed Forces Federation, which represents forces staff, said there were big variations in standards of accommodation, but it should all be brought up to standard.

"It is nothing to do with young men or young women. It is not a question of lack of maintenance by the user - in some cases it really is down to systems."

Sally Osment, deputy chair of the Army Families Federation, said: "We are not saying we are victims.

"We can see there are people with really genuine housing needs but there's an additional dimension here which is that heads of families are putting their lives on the line."

Pictures of barracks taken by soldiers

Q&A: Military housing
04 Jan 07 |  UK

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