Royal Navy and military veterans minister Johnny Mercer visits Gosport championing Autumn Statement cash boost

The veterans minister said more former service personnel will be supported than ever following the Autumn Statement.
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Johnny Mercer made an appearance at the FirstLight Trust Cafe Hub on Gosport High Street this evening alongside Dame Caroline Dinenage. The visit comes after chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced an extra £10m would be put towards the Veterans’ Places, Pathways and People (VPPP) programme on Wednesday.

National insurance relief for employers of eligible veterans would also be granted. Mr Mercer said he was re-invigorated after speaking to ex-military personnel who became successful entrepreneurs and charities supporting those in need.

Minister for veterans affairs, Johnny Mercer, visited former service personnel, entrepreneurs and military support networks at the FirstLight Cafe Hub on Gosport High Street. From L to R: Caroline Dinenage, Johnny Mercer, Riah Bunce and Sam Fry. Picture: Office of Veterans Affairs.Minister for veterans affairs, Johnny Mercer, visited former service personnel, entrepreneurs and military support networks at the FirstLight Cafe Hub on Gosport High Street. From L to R: Caroline Dinenage, Johnny Mercer, Riah Bunce and Sam Fry. Picture: Office of Veterans Affairs.
Minister for veterans affairs, Johnny Mercer, visited former service personnel, entrepreneurs and military support networks at the FirstLight Cafe Hub on Gosport High Street. From L to R: Caroline Dinenage, Johnny Mercer, Riah Bunce and Sam Fry. Picture: Office of Veterans Affairs.
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He told The News: “It’s an amazing community and they’re working hard everyday. It restores your vigour to keep going and make sure they’re looked after.

"It’s the whole reason I got into politics. I myself and the prime minister want this to be the greatest country in the world to be a veteran and I’m determined to get there.”

The Conservative MP said the extra funding will be put towards pathways to help people with employment, housing and healthcare support while “delivering a service for veterans which the country can be proud of”.

"It’s always been a challenge because there are so many providers and some people are unsure of where to go so they don’t have to tell their story a number of times. That programme is doing great work.

Johnny Mercer speaking to entrepreneurs. Picture: Office of Veterans Affairs.Johnny Mercer speaking to entrepreneurs. Picture: Office of Veterans Affairs.
Johnny Mercer speaking to entrepreneurs. Picture: Office of Veterans Affairs.
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"The vast majority of people who come out of the military are absolutely fine, and others need a bit of extra help to go on and thrive to be extraordinary entrepreneurs and assets to any company.” Mr Mercer added that when he started in office, £8.5m has been invested into tackling veteran homelessness and 910 support housing placements have been made.

"No veteran should be sleeping rough due to a lack of provision this Christmas, and I’ll be up and down the country to make sure that happens,” he added. Ms Dinenage, Gosport MP, said Mr Mercer’s position allows the issues veterans are facing to be “at the heart of policies across government”.

She said highlighting successful former military personnel shows people can transition into civilian life. “It can be a bit of a cliff edge when you leave the armed forces, because some have served for a long time and joined when they were very young,” she said.

Mr Mercer believes the Autumn Statement is a major boost for veterans. Picture: Office of Veterans Affairs.Mr Mercer believes the Autumn Statement is a major boost for veterans. Picture: Office of Veterans Affairs.
Mr Mercer believes the Autumn Statement is a major boost for veterans. Picture: Office of Veterans Affairs.

"They’ve only known the armed forces throughout their adult life, so it can be a real culture shock outside it. It can be difficult from many perspectives, but all these employers and entrepreneurs understand that, and they are great examples of the enterprise and resilience.”

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Kay Hallsworth runs Explorer Coffees alongside her husband Neil after serving in the Royal Navy for 29 years. The former commander said it was vital for Mr Mercer to see successful veterans running businesses.

She said: “It’s difficult to leave the service. It was my life. It’s really important that people see the different side of a veteran, those who are successful and living a normal life.

"Not all veterans are broken. I’m disabled but that doesn’t mean I can’t work and be a business owner. This image of veterans being homeless, broken and scarred with mental health problems is not the case for the majority of them, but those who are struggling need help.

"There can never be enough support for veterans. Different veterans need different things, with some not knowing how to reach out or are not in the right place to do so.”

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FirstLight Trust works to help vulnerable veterans recover and transition into civilian life. National activities coordinator Riah Bunce, 39, of Gosport, said: “It’s all about embedding veterans in the community and it's a massive benefit to be part of a supportive network.”

Sam Fry, national support coordinator, 44, of Gosport, said the hub being on the high street helps break down the stigma of asking for help. She added that homelessness is one of the key issues facing veterans.

"We are finding a rise in sofa surfing at this time, but also people asking for mental health support. I don’t think £10m is enough, it depends on what it is being put towards.

"Sometimes veterans find it hard to settle down after moving from base to base. It’s about helping them find where they fit in the community.”