Veterans’ Gateway Begins New Trial Proactive Call Service To Support Ex-Forces Community

The 24-hour helpline for veterans' support will now actively get in touch with ex-service personnel who have asked for help

Veterans’ Gateway

Veterans’ Gateway

The Veterans’ Gateway, the first port of call for veterans’ support, has begun a new trial outreach service for those who have served in the armed forces.

Supported by £108,000 of funding from the Ministry of Defence, the Veterans’ Gateway will now proactively call ex-service personnel who have been in contact to ask for support.

Under the new initiative, the Gateway will identify the most vulnerable ex-service personnel who have previously contacted its helpline, and trained call handlers will get in touch to make sure they are receiving the support they need.

Each individual who contacts the helpline will be asked for their consent to receive calls from the Veterans’ Gateway team, who will be able to provide support and advice, and make referrals where necessary.

Veterans will receive calls from the same advisor, and can decide how often they hear from the Gateway, so they are supported in a way that suits their specific needs.

This new proactive posture follows the US Marine Corps veterans service, who make six proactive calls for every one that they receive.

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said:

The Veterans’ Gateway already makes a huge difference to the ex-forces community, helping thousands of people across the country access the support they need.

I’m delighted we are now able to enhance this service, boosting the support we offer veterans and making sure that no one who has served this country suffers in silence.

Assistant Director of Veterans’ Gateway Mark Collins said:

This funding will allow us to build on our service, offering a more holistic service to the veteran community which will be a positive step.

We will be monitoring the outcome to see how this trial impacts our users but hopefully it’ll mean those most vulnerable will be able to access help from Veterans’ Gateway supporting organisations, on their journey to getting the right help.

Minister for Defence People and Veterans Tobias Ellwood said:

We are committed to making sure everyone who has served knows where to turn in times of hardship, and this new trial will allow us to go one step further.

By maintaining regular contact with any veteran who needs help, we can offer them the support they deserve, as and when they need it.

Available 24 hours a day, the Veterans’ Gateway signposts ex-forces personnel to the wide range of support available to them, including housing and financial advice, career guidance, and medical care from the NHS. Since being set up in 2017, the Veterans’ Gateway has already received over 20,000 calls, advising ex-forces personnel and their families.

The funding for this new trial was announced by the Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson last year, as part of a wider package of support for veterans. This included the creation of the new Mental Health and Wellbeing Fund – a grant programme where charities will be able to apply for funding from the £10 million awarded to the Armed Forces Covenant Fund Trust to support the mental fitness of ex-service personnel.

Girls’ Education Should Be A Development Priority For The Commonwealth

New report finds that helping girls stay in school requires leadership and action by all sectors of society

Foreign & Commonwealth Office

Foreign & Commonwealth Office

A new report into girls’ education in the Commonwealth has highlighted the gap between ambition and reality, calling on leaders from all sectors of society to make this a national development priority and get behind cost-effective investments such as early childhood education.

The Platform for Girls’ Education, co-chaired by the Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, commissioned the report, which assesses the state of girls’ education across the 53 Commonwealth countries.

Many Commonwealth countries have made good progress towards achieving gender parity in education, with girls out-performing boys in some countries. However, girls remain particularly disadvantaged in a large number of countries and there is a compelling case for targeted efforts to support them.

The report, published by Cambridge University, suggests that governments across the world need to target more funding to the early years of education, especially for girls in remote rural areas. It also highlights the need for targeted approaches to help girls overcome the many challenges they face as they reach puberty.

The Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said:

The importance of investing in girls’ education cannot be overstated. Educated girls are a powerful force for building more prosperous, fair and resilient societies based on an “invisible chain” of shared values. Our shared vision of 12 years of quality education for all girls can only be achieved through a much greater collective effort to dismantle the barriers, driven by leaders from all sectors of society.

This first report is a significant step to identifying what actions are needed to ensure disadvantaged girls are supported to stay in school.

Professor Pauline Rose, the author of the report and the Director of the Research for Equitable Access and Learning (REAL) Centre at the University of Cambridge said:

The Report presents clear evidence on what works to enhance educational access and learning for marginalised girls. The Platform for Girls’ Education presents a key opportunity to promote political leadership backed up with resources in order to translate this evidence into action at scale.

The Platform for Girls’ Education is a group of 12 leaders with a shared commitment to 12 years of quality education for all girls. Its membership includes government and civil society representatives from Canada, Fiji, Ghana, India, Kenya, Pakistan, Rwanda, Trinidad & Tobago and the UK, as well as heads of leading multilateral agencies (UNESCO, UNICEF, Global Partnership for Education).

Government Publishes Landmark Domestic Abuse Bill

The government has unveiled the most comprehensive package ever to tackle domestic abuse

Crowd of People

Crowd of People

The landmark draft Domestic Abuse Bill has been published today (Monday 21 January), aimed at supporting victims and their families and pursuing offenders. It comes as it is revealed domestic abuse issues cost the country £66 billion a year.

To help tackle the crime, new legislation will:

  • introduce the first ever statutory government definition of domestic abuse to specifically include economic abuse and controlling and manipulative non-physical abuse – this will enable everyone, including victims themselves, to understand what constitutes abuse and will encourage more victims to come forward
  • establish a Domestic Abuse Commissioner to drive the response to domestic abuse issues
  • introduce new Domestic Abuse Protection Notices and Domestic Abuse Protection Orders to further protect victims and place restrictions on the actions of offenders
  • prohibit the cross-examination of victims by their abusers in the family courts
  • provide automatic eligibility for special measures to support more victims to give evidence in the criminal courts

The Home Office has published a report into the economic and social cost of domestic abuse, which reveals the crime cost England and Wales £66 billion in 2016 to 2017.

According to the research, the vast majority of this cost (£47 billion) was a result of the physical and emotional harm of domestic abuse, however it also includes other factors such as cost to health services (£2.3 billion), police (£1.3 billion) and victim services (£724 million).

Minister for Crime, Safeguarding and Vulnerability, Victoria Atkins said:

I have heard absolutely heartbreaking accounts of victims whose lives have been ripped apart because of physical, emotional or economic abuse they have suffered by someone close to them.

The draft Domestic Abuse Bill recognises the complex nature of these horrific crimes and puts the needs of victims and their families at the forefront.

This government is absolutely committed to shining a light on domestic abuse to ensure this hidden crime does not remain in the shadows.

It is estimated that around two million adults experience domestic abuse each year, affecting almost 6% of all adults. Women are twice as likely to be victims than men.

The draft bill will introduce measures:

  • to address coercive control and economic abuse, and how domestic abuse affects children
  • to transform the response in the justice system

The bill will also ban the distressing practice of domestic abuse victims being cross-examined by perpetrators in the family courts.

Home Secretary Sajid Javid said:

Domestic abuse shatters lives and tears families apart. It can happen anywhere, to anyone.

Protecting victims, as well as supporting survivors, is at the heart of our strengthened response to this horrific crime.

Our draft Domestic Abuse Bill and wider package of measures, unveiled today, will bolster the protection for victims and will help expose and bring the vile abusers to justice.

Justice Secretary David Gauke said:

Domestic abuse destroys lives and warrants some of the strongest measures at our disposal to deter offenders and protect victims.

That is why we are barring abusers from cross-examining their victims in the family courts – a practice which can cause immense distress and amount to a continuation of abuse – and giving courts greater powers, including new protection orders, to tackle this hideous crime.

By pursuing every option available, to better support victims and bring more offenders to justice, we are driving the change necessary to ensure families never have to endure the pain of domestic abuse in silence.

Between the draft bill and its consultation response, the government is making 120 commitments to tackle domestic abuse. Amongst these are a series of non-legislative measures which include:

  • £8 million of Home Office funding to support children affected by domestic abuse
  • a new crisis support system for those with no recourse to public funds
  • additional funding and capacity building for services for disabled, elderly and LGTB victims
  • updated support, training and guidance on economic abuse
  • new and additional training for job centre work coaches, police, social workers and probation staff to help them recognise and effectively tackle abuse
  • improved support for victims in the family court
  • additional £500,000 funding for provisions for male victims

Sandra Horley CBE, Chief Executive of Refuge, said:

Refuge welcomes the draft bill announced by the government today. Refuge staff deal with the human misery of domestic violence every day. The cost to women and children’s lives is devastating. But now the immense cost to the taxpayer has been laid bare, too. Domestic violence is truly everybody’s business.

This bill represents a once in a generation opportunity to address domestic violence; but in order to do so, we must ensure its aspirations are matched by adequate resource. We will continue to work closely with the government to ensure the final bill meets the needs of the women and children we support.

Suzanne Jacob OBE, Chief Executive of SafeLives, said:

We welcome the government’s set of proposals, particularly putting a greater focus on perpetrator accountability, both through the legal system, civil powers, and programmes that seek to change abusive behaviour.

The government estimates today that perpetrators cost the economy £66 billion – more than the cost of alcohol and drug misuse, cigarettes and obesity combined. It affects more than 2 million people every year.

For too long, we’ve expected victims and children to uproot their lives while the perpetrators remain invisible and unchallenged by the system. The new change in approach reflects what hundreds of survivors told SafeLives they wanted – we’re pleased the government is listening.

Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of Women’s Aid, said:

Domestic abuse costs lives and it costs money. It is happening at epidemic levels yet it has been largely hidden behind closed doors. Now is the time to bring it out into the spotlight and address the impact of domestic abuse properly once and for all.

The Domestic Abuse Bill has the potential to create a step change in the national response and this must be backed up with sustainable funding for our life-saving network of specialist support services to make a real difference to survivors’ lives.

We look forward to working with the government, our member services and survivors themselves to make sure survivors have the resources and support they need, as well as address the root causes of domestic abuse so that every woman and child can live free from fear and abuse.

Dr Nicola Sharp-Jeffs, Director of Surviving Economic Abuse said:

Economic abuse can prevent victims from leaving an abuser and thwart their efforts to rebuild their lives safely – it can even create new risks.

Through committing to ensure that practitioners have access to training and guidance on economic abuse, the government has recognised that physical and economic safety are entwined.

These new measures will help bring economic abuse out of the shadows and will transform responses, ensuring that victim-survivors are able to access the support they so desperately need.

Protect Your Pension Pots From Investment Scams And Negligent Trustees

The Insolvency Service is warning people to guard their pension savings from investment scammers and negligent trustees

Parliament Street

Parliament Street

Since 2015, the Insolvency Service has applied to the courts to wind-up 24 companies that have carried out a form of pension misuse.

The pension misuse varies from convincing people to access their pensions and invest in unregulated schemes to pension trustees not carrying out their duties properly.

The Insolvency Service has estimated that there have been close to 3,750 victims connected to the 24 companies closed down, including both individuals and businesses, having made £202 million worth of contributions.

Consumer Minister Kelly Tolhurst MP said:

Our consumer protection regime is one of the strongest in the world and we are committed to making sure people know their rights. If you are approached to make an investment from your pension, always do your homework and seek independent advice, if necessary, to help you make an informed decision.

Government continues to work closely with the Insolvency Service who are working to clamp down on rogue companies targeting vulnerable people. If you think you might have been a victim, I’d urge you to report it to Action Fraud UK at the earliest opportunity or visit the ScamSmart website for further help.

Victims of pension scams last year lost an average of £91,000 each to fraudsters* and as identified during FCA and TPR’s ScamSmart campaign, common tactics used include cold-calls, offers of free pension reviews and promises of high rates of return.

The government recently announced a ban prohibiting cold-calling in relation to pensions and following the wind-ups of the 24 companies investigated by the Insolvency Service, 8 directors have received a total of 57 years’ worth of directorship disqualifications.

And there are further ongoing investigations to ensure rogue directors are prevented from managing companies.

In one case, four directors of companies involved in the misuse of £57million worth of pension funds were banned for a total of 34 years.

Introducer firms would cold-call people, inviting them to transfer their pension pots into occupational pension schemes. However, the introducers misled clients about their expertise and offered guaranteed returns which they couldn’t deliver. Members’ funds were then largely invested in unregulated investments in storage units which did not yield the level of returns promised to members**.

And following another investigation, Fast Pensions Ltd and five other connected firms were wound-up by the courts in May 2018.

Between 2012 and 2013, 520 people were encouraged to transfer their pension savings from existing providers into one of 15 schemes, with Fast Pensions acting as the sponsoring employer. A total of at least £21 million was invested and people were persuaded to transfer their savings through various methods, including cold calls questioning the performance of their pension funds or offering free pension reviews.

Advice provided was inadequate and advisors also failed to disclose information around returns and the high risk and illiquid nature of the investments made by the schemes, as well as the benefits members would be entitled to***.

To help prevent you from becoming a target for pension abuse, the Insolvency Service recommends:

  • Be wary of calls out of the blue. Get the company’s name and establish their credentials using the FCA’s Financial Services Register
  • Seek financial guidance or advice before changing your pension arrangements or making investments
  • Don’t be rushed or pressured into making any decision about your pension and be wary of promised returns that sound too good to be true

For further information about scams you can visit the ScamSmart website and if you suspect a scam, you can report it to Action Fraud UK.

Darwin Plus: ‘Bird-Borne’ Radar For Albatrosses Among 17 New Projects To Be Funded

Funding for 17 conservation projects worth more than £3.5 million in the UK Overseas Territories has been announced from the Darwin Plus initiative to deliver commitments in the 25 Year Environment Plan

A pair of wandering albatrosses on South Georgia (Credit: Richard Phillips/British Antarctic Survey)

A pair of wandering albatrosses on South Georgia (Credit: Richard Phillips/British Antarctic Survey)

Rare species and iconic landscapes, from the polar regions to the Caribbean seas, will receive protection through UK Government funding to help enhance the environment in the UK Overseas Territories.

Seventeen innovative new projects around the globe will receive a share of around £3.5 million from the Darwin Plus initiative, designed to support the preservation of international nature and achieve commitments in the UK Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan.

The diverse array of projects receiving funding include radar tracking of albatrosses in the south Atlantic, exploring the deepest parts of the Atlantic Ocean and protecting wetlands in the Caribbean – home to more than 185 species of water birds, including a number of globally threatened species.

Environment Minister Thérèse Coffey said:

These 17 projects receiving funding through Darwin Plus will make a significant contribution to international conservation, demonstrating the UK’s global leadership in this field.

Protecting and enhancing nature in our Overseas Territories will help to make crucial activities such as agriculture, fisheries, forestry and tourism more sustainable.

Minister of State for the Overseas Territories Lord (Tariq) Ahmad of Wimbledon said:

The UK’s Overseas Territories have some of the world’s most pristine waters and natural environments, from the polar regions to the Pacific, and we are committed to doing all we can to preserve them.

This funding will help conservation projects continue their good work, boosting protections for wildlife in areas including the Atlantic and the Caribbean and supporting sustainable livelihoods which will preserve our precious environment for future generations.

Albatrosses and Radar Tracking

One of the successful projects will see albatrosses and petrels benefit from further research using ‘bird-borne’ radar devices. Developed by scientists at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), the attached radars will measure how often tracked wandering albatrosses interact with legal and illegal fishing vessels in the south Atlantic to map the areas and times when birds of different age and sex are most susceptible to bycatch – becoming caught up in fishing nets.

The project’s results will be shared with stakeholders to better target bycatch observer programmes, monitor compliance with bycatch mitigation and highlight the impact of bycatch on seabirds.

The UK is a signatory to the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP), part of the Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS). This agreement has been extremely successful in substantially reducing levels of seabird bycatch in a number of important fisheries where rates have been reduced to virtually zero from levels that were historically concerning.

Professor Richard Phillips, leader of the Higher Predators and Conservation group at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) said:

The British Antarctic Survey is delighted to be awarded this funding from Darwin Plus, which is for a collaboration between BAS and BirdLife International. The project will use a range of technologies – GPS, loggers that record 3-D acceleration and novel radar-detecting tags – to quantify interactions of tracked wandering albatrosses with legal and illegal fishing vessels. The technology will provide much-needed information on the areas and periods of highest bycatch.

Cypriot Flamingoes

Another project focuses on monitoring and understanding drivers of change in the Akrotiri wetlands, part of the UK Overseas Territory of Akrotiri and Dhekelia on the island of Cyprus and home to a large population of flamingoes.

Akrotiri Salt Lake is the largest inland water body on Cyprus and is considered one of the eastern Mediterranean’s most important wetlands.

The project will use remote sensing, on-the-ground measurements of water quality and vegetation, and assess community interactions between native and non-native species including mosquitoes. It will establish baselines and procedures for evaluating the health of this highly-valued wetland.

The information collected will provide long-term species and environmental data for the Sovereign Base Areas and wider Cyprus.

Recently the British Military Police at RAF Akrotiri have reduced the illegal killing of birds around the Sovereign Base Area by 72 per cent.

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said:

As a major landowner in the UK and around the world, the military has a responsibility to protect and enhance our environment. I’m delighted that a project in RAF Akrotiri has been successful in securing a grant from Darwin Plus, which will be vital to boost conservation efforts in the region.

This work will run alongside other conservation projects across the defence estate, including restoring the 99-year-old Bulford Kiwi, cleaning plastics off Tregantle beach and rehabilitating veterans through archaeology.

Jodey Peyton, ecologist at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology and project manager for Darwin Plus, said:

We are delighted to be given the opportunity to collaboratively explore the interplay between invasive non-native species, climate and land-use change across the internationally important Ramsar site, Lake Akrotiri, within the Western Sovereign Base Area.

Bringing together experts from hydrological, ecological and societal perspectives, our research will provide evidence to promote and protect the incredible diversity of species that depend on the lake and the functions they provide.

Ramsar sites are wetlands of international importance designated under the Ramsar Convention.

Other Projects

This latest round of funding includes projects to protect important wetlands in the Caribbean and strengthening biosecurity measures on St Helena and Ascension IslandPitcairn and Tristan da Cunha. Some of the projects will be delivered in and around the Falkland Islands and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, both important hotspots for wildlife.

The British Geological Survey has received funding to explore the South Sandwich Trench, one of the deepest parts of the southern ocean at approximately 8100 metres, as part of the Five Deeps Expedition. The project will use a Deep Submergence Vehicle (DSV) Limiting Factor, the only full ocean depth manned submersible and a fleet of free-fall landers which will deliver scientific equipment to the sea floor to acquire video and physical samples.

Darwin Plus will deliver commitments in the 25 Year Environment Plan on nature and protection of the natural environment in the UK Overseas Territories. Round 7 of Darwin Plus received 51 applications, the highest number ever. In 2018, 13 projects were awarded funding.

Professor Stephen Blackmore, Chair of the Darwin Plus Advisory Group said:

The range of the projects funded by Darwin Plus in our UK Overseas Territories shows how we can effect change and better support and protect nature around the globe.

I am proud that we are delivering Darwin Plus funding to benefit animal and plant species and their habitats, which are vital to humanity’s economic and social development.

The fund is administered by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), with additional funding support from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

More information on applying for Darwin Plus funding can be found on Gov.uk.

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