Royal Navy, army and RAF families are ‘breaking apart’ as loved ones spend more time away

A soldier is welcomed back home after six months in Iraq. Photo: MoD
A soldier is welcomed back home after six months in Iraq. Photo: MoD
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RELATIONSHIPS within military families are being broken apart as loved ones spend more and more time living away from home, it has been claimed.

Heads from three military support federations have spoken out about their fears over the number of ‘dispersed families’ across the military and the strain it is putting on relationships.

A sailor embraces his family after returning to Portsmouth from HMS Diamond. Photo: LPhot Daniel Shepherd

A sailor embraces his family after returning to Portsmouth from HMS Diamond. Photo: LPhot Daniel Shepherd

The trio told MPs sitting on the government’s influential defence select committee that things needed to change or more families would disintegrate.

Anna Wright, chief executive of the Portsmouth-based Naval Families Federation, told MPs for a large number of sailors, the most time they spent with their family was at the weekend – the rest, she said, was spent deployed.

‘At the moment I’m just meeting so many people whose relationships have broken down because they just never see their partner,’ she told the committee.

Her concerns were echoed by Sara Baade, chief executive of the Army Families Foundation  – which represents hundreds of army families across the area – and Maria Lyle, director of the RAF Families Foundation.

Image of a Royal Navy officer from HMS Sutherland, hugging his daughter after returning from a long deployment at sea. Photo: L(Phot) Barry Wheeler

Image of a Royal Navy officer from HMS Sutherland, hugging his daughter after returning from a long deployment at sea. Photo: L(Phot) Barry Wheeler

Almost a quarter (24 per cent) of military families live away from the bases of their loved one, Mrs Wright said, adding the figure in the Royal Navy was higher at 36 per cent.

Labour MP Madeleine Moon was concerned about the issue and asked the support chiefs if they felt there was ‘enough of a focus’ on dispersed military families.

‘I don’t,’ Mrs Wright admitted, adding: ‘There’s very, very little support for families in the community.

‘That’s not to say that they’re whinging and moaning for it but if things do go wrong and their partner is away for nine months, it’s really tough.’

Mrs Lyle said a recent project on dispersed families revealed some families have had a ‘really positive experience’ in spite of the separation.

The work, she added, was helping to inform family federations on ‘light touch’ changes they can recommend, which will help provide extra support..

‘That will be quite important because we will probably go on to talk about the future accommodation model that could mean that that category grows quite considerably in the future, so we would like to future-proof the support for those families have in place,’ she told MPs.

However, Mrs Moon said part of the issue was understanding how many people were affected by the issue.

She told the committee: ‘Part of the problem is that no-one knows about what dispersed family they have locally, the local authority doesn’t know, the health authority doesn’t know, the education authority doesn’t know, the local support services don’t know - the local MP doesn’t know even the [Royal British] Legion doesn’t know.

‘Is any of the research you have done going to get over how we are actually able to develop a model when nobody knows where the problems are and what numbers you have got.’

Mrs Wright said military personnel weren’t ‘very keen’ on sharing too much personal data on already-existing military networks because they couldn’t ‘see the point’.

‘For example we have a lot of unmarried folk and they don’t put down that they have children with their partners so we have no sight of how many children there are so it’s very difficult to provide support unless you know this,’ she said. ‘So I think the first step is to incentivise people to share their data and explain to them why it’s important.’

Mrs Baade added: ‘Capturing that data, understanding where our families are and what their needs are is really important and I’m not sure we’re close to that yet.’