Thursday, 11 April 2013

Busy time at AFF!

Thanks in part to the campaigning work of AFF, new rules have now been brought in covering Get You Home (Overseas) Allowance, School Children's Visits and Concessionary Travel for Families. The rules were introduced on Feb 1 2013.
 
Get You Home Allowance (Overseas)
Now the GYH (O) allowance can be claimed even if the serving person is not on leave. The serving soldier does not have to travel as part of the family for journeys to the UK. In addition, a spouse who is not from the UK can set their GYH (O) allowance against the cost of returning to their home country.
 
Service Children's Visits
Parents claiming CEA can now claim for a journey by car, in addition to the previous travel by train or plane. For more details please contact Lucy Scott, AFF Education and Childcare Specialist at ec@aff.org.uk or Diane Weir, Director AFF Germany at director@affgermany.org

Concessionary Travel for Families
Non-UK spouses can now use their CTF entitlement against standard-class travel to their home country. For more on these allowances, please see the DIN, or contact Caroline Mayne, AFF Employment, Training, Allowances and Money Specialist etam@aff.org.uk.

Excellence for Forces Children Award
The Service Premium is extra Government money available to state primary and secondary schools in England, which is intended to help children from Service families cope with issues around moving, operational tours or separation.

AFF is asking parents to nominate their child's school if the school has used their Service Premium cash in a good way. For full details of the award and the prizes, visit Excellence for Forces Children.

AFF Roadshows 2013
The Army Families Federation will be taking to the road this summer so you can ask Army bosses questions on the issues important to you.
The day will start at 9.30am. You can pick up goodies and information from stand-holders - including representatives from local authorities. There will also be a question-and-answer style panel, where you can ask questions about Army life which matter to you! For full details visit AFF Roadshows 2013.

The AFF Germany Families' Conference - Thursday 27th June 2013, Herford
Do you have questions or concerns about your quality of life in BFG (British Forces Germany)? Are you interested in what the future holds for Army families in Germany and Western Europe? Would you like to know more about allowance cuts, redundancy and the drawdown of troops? If so, why not come to the AFF Germany Families' Conference 2013? It's your chance to say what you think and hear what senior Army personnel have to say in response. It's fun, informative and free - we even give you lunch! Full details at AFF Germany Families' Conference 2013

Thursday, 25 October 2012

A picture tells a thousand words.

A homecoming photograph can often say so much more than trying to describe the emotions of having your soldier home safe.

As the handover from Herrick 16 to Herrick 17 nears completion, so many families will be welcoming home loved-ones.

Other people will just be getting used to their soldier being away again, and encouraging children to draw pictures for their serving parent can be a lovely, easy way for them to put pen to paper, even if they're young or not keen on writing.

Whether your soldier is at home or away, communication doesn't just have to be about words.


Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Deployment is one of the most important things which happens to Army families, and as such is worth discussing.

Families have no control of when their soldier deploys, although they are often aware of it well in advance. There are plenty of projects out there to help at this time, like Storybook Soldiers, or Reading Force, and many schools are aware of the issues facing children of soldiers on operations.

On a personal note, we have just said goodbye to my husband, and I am looking down the wrong end of seven months of separation.

Social media will be invaluable, as faceboook friends offer huge support online, as well as the unit welfare team providing updates on their pages.

Not everybody wants or needs welfare support in the traditional sense, but information and understanding is key. I'm delighted my children's school has experience of Army families and has started a group especially for children with deployed parents so the children can write letters, or just talk about whatever is on their mind.

I'm all for more of this and I hope the Armed Forces Covenant will formalise what so many of the better civilian organisations are already doing.

Meanwhile, I have lots of treats planned for us all while my husband is away!

Check out our website www.aff.org.uk if you have any questions on deployment.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Pastures new

As a brand-new member of staff, I have arrived at AFF with a completely open mind but it has quickly become obvious to me that AFF is a hugely-respected organisation, brimming with dedicated and passionate staff who really make a difference to families.

It didn't take long to get to the heart of the matter; AFF co-ordinators are there to listen to families. They not only help to find solutions, they also collate anonymous statistics which are then presented to Army command. AFF is fiercely independent, but our job is to effect change, and we work with, rather than for or against, Army policy makers to get the best deal for families.

I have joined at a time of much uncertainty for families and - with enquiries to AFF on the rise - what is set to be a busy time for the organisation.

We love feedback and the more we get, the more we can help!

Wendy Searle
Director Communications

Monday, 14 May 2012

What Carrier U-Turn says about Defence Decisions

On the surface Thursday's widely reported U-turn on the naval carriers doesn't look like Army business but with the announcement of the new Army 2020 structures already overdue, the nagging suspicion that the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) was a rushed financially driven downscaling exercise, rather than an independently assessed threat based review, continues to gather credence. I am beginning to fear that other decisions taken in the past 18 months that impact army families, are likely to be affected by the same flawed calculations that have lead to this dramatic U-turn?
The big announcements of the past 2 years, from the army families' perspective, are:
·         the accelerated drawdown in Germany - bringing troops back to the UK;
·         the reduced requirement for manpower – redundancy;
·         the bigger role for reserves – requiring resources for recruiting and training and
·         the New Employment Model - encouraging stability and a reducing use of SFA

With the carrier U-turn forcing us to re-examine the driving factors behind each initiative, the fear must be that these may be built on the same flawed procedures. All of this simply adds to the uncertainty facing our soldiers and their families.

The Germany rebasing work is already struggling to deliver, we think due to the requirement for massive infrastructure investment against the ‘zero sum’ demands. Are units being put where they can best deliver operational effect or are they being shoe horned into any real estate defence can find? Where is the money for the infrastructure to make these changes sustainable? No one will stay in a unit that feels permanently isolated and under resourced.

Fears over redundancy are well described.  Rumours abound over ‘scorched earth’ tranches 3 & 4 when numbers reduce dramatically to make way for the increase in reserves. If the maths has gone awry, as it did so badly over the carriers, we could be sacking people this year and looking for a wave of recruits next.

The role of reserves and the required expansion in the TA is a big saving. Why pay full salary and pensions for a soldier when you can 'hire' him/her only for the periods you need them? But what if this accounting proves to be false and we can't recruit, train and maintain anything like the numbers required, what will be the effect for all families both Regular and TA?  More work for those left behind and for the UK an under-manned defence force leading us vulnerable and unable to react to political direction. We’ll be back in the bad old days of broken harmony and ‘running hot’ with no progress made. And in the short term, training the reserves who do join will take a herculean effort.

How sustainable is the New Employment Model's aim to promote stability and integration in the community if units are placed in isolated barracks far from any such infrastructure and away from local economies which can deliver work for family members? The costs of developing it are enormous and as huge financial crisis continues to engulf the country no one is betting on the money being available to support it properly. The fear must be that a ‘make the most of a bad situation’ mantra will prevail and families will once again bear the brunt of rushed and poor decision making.

As a final note, all of these options have significant up front costs at a time when we can least afford it -  and the economy isn’t getting any better any time soon. This all leads to saving money in the short term, with cuts to allowances and pay freezes. There is no thought that the erosion of the 'package' (pay, allowances, pensions) and welfare provision for those serving is to be reassessed when the changes are finished and the promised injection of finances take place (we are not holding our breath for it). Those who are left behind will find the package they have inherited is not even a shadow of what is deserved. With no union to rally public opinion to the cause, it will be down to AFF to fight on your behalf, and hold the Chain of Command to account for the decisions they have been forced into making. It's no wonder, according to 'The Sun' that they've been told not to give interviews without permission

Catherine Spencer

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

AFF with you through every conflict since 1982

The more things change the more they stay the same. Thirty years ago AFF was founded against a background of an unpopular government, over-looking the needs of its military as it struggled to impose economic reform. It is acknowledged that when that same military delivered victory in the Falklands war, it created the breathing space for the Thatcherite revolution to gather irreversible momentum. As this government continues to focus on our economic troubles, a consequence of which is, again, strategic change across defence, AFF remains determined to highlight the unseemliness of overlooking appropriate pay, pensions and job security for Service Personnel. As the Falkland War showed, our Armed Forces are the nation’s insurance policy and you under-invest at your peril.

AFF have contributed to substantial change but even though there have been wins we continue to spar with the treasury for sufficient funding to support Army families and we still maintain that the nation’s duty to its Military personnel is recognised by them as the money in their pocket and the quality of their housing. AFF have been with you for the Falklands, Northern Ireland, Iraq, Bosnia, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Iraq and we’ll still be with you wherever the Army go next. We’ll continue to be your advocate but this year, our thirtieth year, come along to your Families Conference at the Institute of Education where you’ll have your chance to speak to politicians and senior command. AFF need you to speak out and tell it how it really is - only then can we continue to make a difference.

Keep Calm, Don’t Panic and register for Conference whilst we still have tickets.

Monday, 30 April 2012

Is the Commanding Officers' Designate Course a barometre for morale?

Thousands of service personnel gathered at Twickenham this weekend for the Army v. Navy game giving many a chance to catch up with old friends. In an age of austerity it’s all about excess as espirit de corp abounds.

Jubilation at being in today’s Armed Forces is in short supply. Last week I presented at the Commanding Officers' Designates course to the chosen few. I sense a wind of change – normally very much ‘on message’ having achieved the life-time goal of being designated for command, those I saw seemed daunted by the prospect of what must be an impossible task as the gaping holes in welfare, finance and manpower become apparent - making their job as Commanding Officer increasingly difficult. Whilst some bravely state that austerity measures call for tough leadership one should remember that even in the years of plenty the Armed Forces were expected to deliver a champagne performance on cider budget. So how will these future COs manage to continue providing on tap water?

The future size, shape and direction of the Army will be announced over the next few months as Army 2020 is revealed – the fact that their most ‘keen as mustard’ personnel seem unconvinced by plans afoot are a worrying indication of the dire state of defence. It may have been a win for the Army at Twickenham – but I doubt many in the Army will feel like winners as the reality of life in the tranches continues.