An overlooked article in the Telegraph reveals that serving British soldiers continue to endure crumbling substandard living accommodation at a time when the political elites in London are more focused on averting a tube strike and pandering to the whims of the RMT union and its overpaid train drivers than looking after the welfare of those who do a truly difficult and irreplaceable job.
The article quotes a complaint written to the letter’s page of Soldier Magazine, detailing conditions that should rightly cause many red faces at the Ministry of Defence:
The letter from an unnamed soldier complained: “We are constantly without hot water, have only three showers per platoon and not all of them work.
The rooms at Somme Barracks in Catterick are “falling to bits”, the soldier wrote.
“We have made every attempt to make them bearable to live in, but their poor condition is now starting to affect the lad’s morale.”
The response given to the soldier by the Ministry of Defence spokesman is breathtakingly dismissive and arrogant, and is worth quoting in full:
The accommodation at Somme Barracks is not condemned. The MOD has already invested some £1.2 million in improving the site in 2011 and 2012, redecorating and upgrading a number of areas including flooring, toilet facilities and utilities rooms.
We will continue to invest in the barracks and are replacing boilers supplying hot water to blocks 11 and 12. This work should be finished by May 2, 2014.
Comprehensive maintenance service is provided but occupants must report any problem promptly to the help desk or repair work may be delayed.
Essentially, the government’s response to a serving soldier’s complaint about appalling accommodation is to call him a liar, boast about supposed renovations that clearly delivered no noticeable improvement when they were completed two years ago, and then to blame the squalid conditions on the soldiers themselves, claiming that they did not report the issue to the help desk as one would a malfunctioning BlackBerry.
Compare the serving soldier’s description of substandard British army accommodation with this grim account of army housing in backward-sliding Russia, taken from the excellent book “Putin’s Russia” by the late journalist Anna Politkovskaya:
[The soldier’s] home is a dreadful officers’ hostel with peeling stairwells, half derelict and eery … The windows of many now uninhabited flats are dark … We go up to the second floor, and behind a peeling door is a squalid, spartan room … There is no hot water, and it is cold, draughty and uncomfortable.
It is a much overlooked outrage that some in the British army live in accommodation that can be described in very similar terms to Russian army lodgings, the Russian army being synonymous with mistreatment of its soldiers. The comparison is even more galling when one considers the fact that the Chief of the Defence Staff earns £250,000 per year, and the Permanent Undersecretary of Defence an impressive £185,000 for his bureaucratic skills.
The story has gained very little traction in the media aside from the Daily Telegraph story, and with much of the national media’ attention focused on the upcoming European elections it is unlikely to do so. But even if the Conservative-led coalition government remains committed to its policy of diminishing Britain’s military capability though underinvestment and spending cuts, ministers could at least ensure that all serving personnel have the dignity of adequate housing.