Defence chiefs 'are failing UK's soldiers'

Damning survey shows vast majority of adults believe troops are not properly equipped or housed
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The Independent Online

Defence chiefs are failing to meet their duty to look after the needs of Britain's soldiers, according to a damning opinion poll carried out by the Ministry of Defence.

The latest survey of public attitudes towards the British Army has laid bare a yawning gap between perceptions of the performance of the nation's soldiers and the treatment meted out to them by their bosses.

The mother of Ben Parkinson, one of the most severely injured soldiers to survive his wounds in an explosion in Afghan-istan, last night said the findings reinforced concerns about the "gulf" between the services and the rest of the population.

Speaking after her son was allowed home for Christmas, Diane Dernie said: "There's a gulf because people don't know what's going on. This Christmas Ben has had so many parcels sent to the military hospital at Headley Court because he's the only one people know about ... There is support. People want to express their support but they don't know how to."

The document, commissioned by the MoD, showed high levels of approval for the Army's ethos. But fewer than a quarter of the 1,000 adults surveyed at the end of October believed that British soldiers were properly equipped. A total of 58 per cent agreed the Army valued all of its people down from 64 per cent since the last quarterly poll.

The number agreeing that "British soldiers are fittingly housed at home, abroad and on operations", has fallen from 40 per cent to 33 per cent.

Significantly, in the wake of comments by General Sir Richard Dannatt, Chief of the General Staff, that there was a "gulf" between the Army and the nation, more than half of the people surveyed said they agreed with his assessment.

One in four people suggested that ignorance of the Army as well as "Government taking us into unpopular wars", were among the chief reasons for the gap. Only 16 per cent of the people surveyed said they had heard of the Military Covenant. However, 92 per cent agreed that the nation had "a responsibility to support those who fight for their country".

The Government has repeatedly faced criticism over the condition of service accommodation. But the treatment provided for injured servicemen and women on the battlefield and once they return to the UK has also been a key area of criticism.

Lance Bombardier Parkinson, 23, lost both his legs and suffered 37 other injuries when his Land Rover was blown up in Helmand province. Mrs Dernie is fighting the MoD for proper compensation for her son.

She said that the MoD didn't want to face up to the consequences of sending soldiers to war. "The MoD are on one side saying this is a peacekeeping operation and these terrible events are one-offs and the lads say 'no they're not' that's the gulf."

Honour them: The 'IoS' Military Covenant Campaign

Our aims

We believe that the Military Covenant is a cornerstone of our democracy, a mutual obligation between the nation, the armed forces and every serviceman and women. However, we believe it is broken. We want soldiers to have the right to expect any war to be lawful, to have adequate resources, the right to be properly cared for in the event of injury, and the right to know that, in the event of their death, their families will be properly looked after.

The Covenant

"Soldiers will be called upon to make personal sacrifices including the ultimate sacrifice in the service of the nation ... In return, British soldiers must always be able to expect fair treatment, to be valued and respected as individuals.

"The chain of command, from the Government downwards, is responsible for articulating and sustaining the morality and justice of the cause in question ... Only on this basis of absolute confidence in the justice and morality of the cause can British soldiers be expected to be prepared to give their lives."

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