It is grimly ironic that, on Armistice Day, UK news headlines included the announcement of a new benefits system which punishes the ‘workshy’ and a report showing inadequate care for many elderly NHS patients undergoing surgery.
Among people of working age, ex-service personnel are more likely than their neighbours to have long-term physical or mental health problems.
Some of these – including post-traumatic stress disorder – can be profoundly distressing to sufferers and those close to them but also largely invisible to the outside world.
If they are unable to find and hold on to jobs, they may appear to those around them as if they are not really trying, even if it sometimes takes a great effort for them just to get through the day.
So they may find themselves scorned and victimised as a result of the hatred and resentment towards ‘scroungers’ which successive governments have fuelled.
Of course it is not just former members of the armed forces whose health problems and impairments are not always obvious, and who may sometimes turn to drugs, drink and socially unacceptable behaviour, or become profoundly withdrawn.
Survivors of other kinds of violence too, including childhood abuse, or appalling living or working conditions may also find it hard to adjust to working life without considerable support, of a kind which is largely unavailable.
But the false notion that almost anyone who wants to get a job and keep it can do so with a little effort is especially frustrating when it is the state that has placed people in harm’s way, then encouraged communities to treat them as ‘benefit-scrounging scum’.
The politicians and media barons who veer between being sentimental about veterans and trying to make their lives as hellish as possible are not necessarily being deliberately hypocritical. Many are unaware of – or choose not to dwell on – the harsh realities of war, preferring to romanticise it.
Warfare may indeed lead to acts of heroism, but it can also cause profound and lasting damage both to soldiers (along with their families) and civilians.
Older people experiencing hardship in a health and social care system that is creaking at the seams are largely second world war veterans. Yet paying for better care for them is clearly far less important to many politicians than funding today’s wars, though these are proving increasingly difficult to justify.
Monuments to dead soldiers provide good photo-opportunities and, less cynically speaking, a chance to feel a moment’s pity for them and their families and sense of national unity.
Those who survived and who are not from wealthy families, however, are often treated as a drain on the public purse or even a target for contempt whipped up by those in power.
© Savitri Hensman is an Ekklesia Associate. She works in the voluntary sector in community care and equalities in the UK, and is also a respected writer on Christianity and social justice.