This is a guest post by Samuel Wilson.
As you may have heard, the government is planning to bring a ‘Military Covenant’ into law. This would give soldiers and their families particular rights and privileges – including (quoting from the Guardian, 16th May) ‘priority NHS treatment for forces personnel and their families; council tax rebates for all personnel serving abroad; guaranteed places at schools of choice for forces children; a promise to pay forces’ widows a pension for life; giving service families priority in allocating council houses’. The argument put forward by proponents of this idea is that it recognises brave soldiers ready to make the ‘ultimate sacrifice’.
Now, all the main political parties seem happy with the alleged principles behind this new law. But, consider the economic situation in which this law is being brought in. When the government is slashing funding to all sectors of public services they are pushing for greater access for the armed forces. My problem with this isn’t that “we just don’t have the money to spend on these brave soldiers in this difficult economic time”. Instead my scepticism arises from two economic policies coming together: 1.) a decrease in access to public services for the public at large, and 2.) an increase in access to these services for those in the military.
It seems quite simple really: if you take away provisions from the hardest hit in society – take away access to health care, education, housing, and employment opportunities – whilst making these more accessible to those who sign up to fight, then, given the harshness of the economic climate for the least well off, more will be forced to (‘choose’ to) sign up. Of course, this conscription of the poor – in order to have access to chances that the better well-off have through their relatively greater spending power – is couched in the language of patriotism; no-one dare suggest that the government’s motives are anything more than honourable, and that class or economics may play at least some role.
I don’t want to suggest that this covenant is being put into place for purely clandestine reasons. However, the fact remains that it will have social impacts beyond merely “helping heros”. For this reason, it is something which should not be debated simply in terms of nationalism or how members of the military are ‘valued’ (what soldiers do for the state and what the state does for them in return) – something must also be said of the economic context under which this change in the law unfolds.