The sight of soldiers filling sandbags has become something we can expect to see on the news year in, year out. Soldiers aren’t just there to fight wars or respond to security threats; we want them to man fire engines or cull sheep when need be, as well. But spare a thought to the hundreds of service men and women who had their Christmas leave cancelled, mostly on Christmas Eve, to head to the North and provide much-needed assistance to organisations like the police and the Environment Agency, organisations that should be better equipped and funded to deal with this themselves.
Spare a thought to the countless service children who woke up on Christmas Day to not find their mummy or daddy waiting to unwrap presents; our forces are yet again sacrificing so much to help those in need. And I know for a fact every last one of them haven’t given it a second thought, going about their duty with commitment and due attention. These soldiers deserve something back; these soldiers deserve a reward.
I know first-hand what it feels like to be crashed out in circumstances similar to this. I know what it's like to lose leave because a decision has been made in the comfort of a Whitehall office to get the cheap labour the army can provide in a crisis - a crisis that has ultimately been caused by the failings of individuals paid vastly more than the typical 19-year-old soldier now rescuing the elderly or attempting in haste to build a flood defence to save an entire village. The COBRA ‘conference call’ held on Boxing Day is a world away from the 24-year-old Troop Leader fresh out of Sandhurst trying to find the words to inspire his young soldiers to carry on through the night filling sandbag after sandbag in the wet and cold. Is this what they signed up to serve in the military for?
The fact is, time after time, the army can provide the answer to big issues. The army is every Prime Minister’s trump card, something he can pull out of his pocket and use to score popularity points and more, use to save his own bacon.
Firemen calling a strike? No problem, crash the army out. Foot and Mouth outbreak in Devon? That’s fine, we can send the army in. It's raining in Yorkshire and the assurances and funding to prevent this happening on this scale again have failed; not to worry, take the Christmas holidays away from the army who have worked hard all year, and they’ll sort it out. After all, everybody loves the sight of soldiers pulling together to save a community, not least the Government.
It’s brutally unfair, but the soldiers puts their boots on and deliver. Will there be a Christmas bonus in their pay package this coming Thursday? Not so much as an extra penny; it's scandalous.
Now, I’m a realist and I fully understand that when you need manpower and, conveniently, a group of workers who don’t have any representation by way of a union or the like, the army is that ultimate tool which seldom fails, and never answers back. But isn’t it time we rewarded these individuals financially for the immeasurable contribution they provide every time a national crisis kicks off? Why is it the police and Environment Agency will be well rewarded in pay for the extra hours they’ve had to work throughout the bank holiday period and no doubt the time off in lieu they’ll be assigned by way of further compensation? Where is the fairness?
If we truly are ‘in this together’, an apparent catchphrase of the government’s, why then will the soldiers putting the most effort and hours into this flood crisis, getting worse by the day, not be getting any reward for their significant work? Without the troops, people would have died this week; why aren’t our men and women in uniform being remunerated appropriately?
I could suggest a million ways to do this - tax relief, more time off - but the most simple, and most appealing way for the soldiers concerned, is to simply give them more money. A one-off reward in the salary just for the troops who have saved the day in the North of England; it wouldn’t even have to be much. A small £100 bonus would go down very well among the ranks, I know.
We are proud, and we are grateful of our troops… but is the government? Because paying quite handsomely one group of civil servants for working on Christmas Day in the most miserable conditions imaginable is unfair if you don’t pay the other. It's saying, ‘We value your work as an Environment Agency representative, but we don’t value yours as a soldier.'
Give our uniformed men and women some reward - give them a Christmas bonus on Thursday, Prime Minister. They deserve it.
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