The appalling sight of a parsimonious MoD dragging two wounded soldiers through the courts to claw back a few hundred pounds in compensation is just another symptom of this Government’s shocking record on defence spending.
The newly elected Labour Government slashed defence budgets in the late nineties, then promptly sent British soldiers to fight its wars in 2001 and beyond, lacking the very equipment that had been scrapped. The unprecedented public dismay of senior army figures in recent weeks shows how bad the situation has become. The likes of Sir Richard Dannatt, the outgoing head of the army, do not lightly break the unwritten rule that prevents servants of the government from criticising their political masters.
But criticism there has been, as casualties from Afghanistan arrive in the UK, their numbers swollen by increased military activity, a lack of equipment and – crucially – advances in battlefield medicine that drastically improves survival levels. Just a few years ago, there would be six serious casualties for every fatality. Now, there are upwards of 20.
That means a great many more young people are returning to their families requiring long-term and often life-long care. For the less seriously injured, there is still a mountain to climb to find new jobs and adapt to life lacking complete mobility – not to mention the emotional challenges. For the MoD to argue that complications caused by wounds can’t be considered when calculating compensation smacks of a bureaucracy devoid of compassion and common sense.
The suspicion has to be that just as the Government has decided it can’t afford enough helicopters and armoured vehicles, neither can it afford adequate help to those exposed to more risk by their absence on the battlefield.