ALMOST half of ex-military personnel in Barnsley are living in the lowest grade of accommodation despite rising referrals for urgent help, new figures have revealed.
Ministry of Defence data shows that 180 service personnel - 40 per cent - live in ‘grade four’ single living accommodation, the lowest rating given by the MoD.
Across the country, almost 39,000 members of the armed forces live in grade four accommodation.
A further 4,360 personnel live in accommodation considered so poor that no rental charge is levied.
Labour has commissioned an independent review of defence accommodation, chaired by cross-bench peer and former head of the Civil Service, Lord Bob Kerslake.
The commission will bring together experts from fields including health, housing and the armed forces.
Barnsley Central MP Dan Jarvis, a former Major in the Parachute Regiment, said: “In one of the richest countries in the world, no-one should find themselves without a stable, secure home - especially our servicemen and women who risked their lives to keep our country safe.
“I have been working closely with our local authorities to eradicate homelessness.
“Our local councils have done a sterling job supporting homeless people throughout the pandemic, as part of the ‘Everybody In’ initiative, but they urgently need national government to step up and provide the resources needed to continue delivering frontline services.”
The MoD awards grades to its single living accommodation based on ‘deficiency points’ allocated across 14 categories.
Points are apportioned for the condition of bedroom decoration, fixtures and fittings, adequacy of heating systems and the proximity of toilet and washing facilities, among other factors.
There is currently no minimum quality standard set and no minimum acceptable conditions that service personnel should expect.
A National Audit Office report on single living accommodation exposed ‘decades of underinvestment’ and ‘problems with heating and hot water’, while cases of rough sleeping involving veterans have also rocketed.
However, plans to end all military veterans’ rough sleeping instances by next year have been blasted by Barnsley East MP Stephanie Peacock - shadow minister for veterans - for ‘not going far enough’ to address the issue.
“It is welcome that the government want to end veteran rough sleeping, but with no plan, no resources and no data, it seems their promise is likely to come up empty.
“It is time for ministers to take this commitment seriously and provide a clear outline on the practical actions they will take to ensure none of our veterans are sleeping on the streets.”
Steve Bentham-Bates, chief executive of Royston-based charity Help 4 Homeless Veterans - which helps rehome ex-military personnel - said referrals for help have doubled since before the pandemic struck in 2020.
Such is the extent of the demand locally, the charity - which has helped about 1,000 people from across the country - is scaling back to focus on those requiring assistance in Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire only.
“Last year we assisted 99 veterans and in the past nine months we have already supported over 95 veterans facing homelessness,” he said.
“We have decided that due to the ongoing increasing calls for help, now double what they were only three years ago, from now on we will concentrate our efforts supporting homeless veterans in the more local areas.
“This has not been an easy decision to make - we are proud of the fact that the charity has assisted over 800 veterans as far afield as the Channel Islands, Pembrokeshire, Cumbria, East Anglia and along the south coast as well as our home area since we began working with vulnerable veterans.”