On the Politics Show, Sunday 11 November 2007, Jon Sopel interviewed Sue Freeth, Director of Welfare for the Royal British Legion
JON SOPEL: In recent weeks, some high profile figures have raised the question of whether the so-called military covenant, the mutual bond between a country and its armed forces is being sufficiently honoured. The Royal British Region, are campaigning hard on that very issue and their Director of Welfare, Sue Freeth, joins me now. Sue, welcome to the Politics Show.
SUE FREETH: Thank you.
JON SOPEL: You don't normally give interviews on Remembrance Sunday. Why have you agreed to speak out today and why do you want to speak out today?
SUE FREETH: Well, I think over the course of the last few months I think the nation itself is becoming more and more aware of how people are hurting and whilst it's very, very important to remember people who we've lost, we must also not forget the people that have come back, who need our support and need our attention and so I don't think we can easily separate the two.
JON SOPEL: Sure, but there's always been years when people have been coming back from war zones or battle fields and they've been hurting. I just wonder why you think in the year 2007, it's different.
SUE FREETH: Well I think there's obviously a larger number of people who have returned in recent years who have been injured and a lot of things have changed and I think the community feels as though it, it's supporting those individuals and those families, perhaps in, more and more in isolation, and that's not something that is satisfactory I think and we're finding more and more younger people coming to us as a service charity for assistance. And some of those things that we're assisting them are really the government's responsibility. So this is a time for us, when everyone is focused on this community, which often looks after itself, I think to be able to air and engage the nation in that discussion.
JON SOPEL: You say, the government's responsibility. What you seem to be suggesting is the government isn't fulfilling its responsibility.
SUE FREETH: No and our, our campaign, the reason we've come out with a, a campaign, and in fact the Legion has been associated with making sure that governments, over its history, have been following its responsibilities, it's something we've done for many years, since we began in fact, actually. Why we're doing it now is because in a number of areas, particularly for veterans and that is our main focus, we feel there are some key areas where the system is not working as well as it needs to in terms of health, in terms of support for bereaved families and in terms of compensation, and we've thought very long and hard about why we've chosen those areas, but they're definitely areas of state responsibility.
JON SOPEL: And the government would say that, on precisely those areas, this is where we're trying to do more. You know, the Armed Forces Minister was talking about a cross-Whitehall strategy for supporting service personnel, their families and veterans and that was announced just the other day.
SUE FREETH: Well I, I think we would like to think that by pushing and becoming more public with this issue, this has encouraged the government to take this issue seriously, so we really welcome the announcement of this White Paper. It's very much needed. A joined up approach across all government departments is much needed. I think, so far, it's been the Ministry of Defence itself, trying to respond to these areas.
JON SOPEL: What about issues like compensation, because there's been a lot of noise about the fact that you know, people are coming back with terrible injuries and the compensation isn't sufficient.
SUE FREETH: Well, we really welcome the small change that has just been made in relation to multiple injuries because it's very overdue and in fact, erm, we were concerned about this scheme when it was brought in, in 2005 and of course we're only just seeing now, the impact on individuals, now as they're actually getting their recovery and they're getting their compensation. But this small change is really only going to benefit in - at the moment, some ten or fifteen individuals. There are a much larger group of people, at least a hundred people, who have single injuries or less severe injuries, who won't benefit from the small change that's been announced and the onus is on us to make sure that in the early stages of this scheme, we get it right. The longer we leave it, the more people will suffer and the more people will feel I think unsupported. Not just those who are injured, but those that we're sending in to operations, dangerous operations, on a daily basis.
JON SOPEL: Do you have that sense that people are being un - feel unsupported when they're - either when they're going, or when they're coming back or even when they're out there.
SUE FREETH: I think there is a growing - we're certainly aware of - since we've started engaging people in this discussion that there are many in the services themselves, who feel that what they're doing is not understood, and because of the compensation that's available for people, whilst they value the fact that they're going to get a one-off payment, if they are injured, they do feel that the - what feels like a small amount of money, in exchange for those injuries, it demonstrates a lack of support for them in general.
JON SOPEL: So how well would you say the government has done in its support of our service men and women.
SUE FREETH: I, we would recognize that there have been improvements and er, and that an effort is being made, I think particularly by the Ministry of Defence but really, within some very tight constraints and I think the things, the areas that we're talking about are going to require a commitment from the government, commitment from the Treasury, for increased resources in to a number of key areas.
JON SOPEL: The Royal British Legion hold a very special place in the heart of the nation, understandably. Don't you risk by coming on a programme like the Politics Show, which is all - you know, being - just seen as another campaigning pressure group and that actually, the best way to make your representations is rather quietly.
SUE FREETH: Well I think we would do, we have always done both. We are a special charity. We do have a special relation with the nation, we do hold a number of responsibilities such as the organization of today's commemoration or contribution to it. And I think we, that actually, we are receiving a lot of support from the public, and from the service community on the whole, for actually taking the stance that we've taken.
JON SOPEL: Sue Freeth, thanks so much for being with us, here on Remembrance Sunday.
END OF INTERVIEW WITH SUE FREETH
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The Politics Show Sunday 11 November 2007 at 12:10 GMT on BBC One.
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