IN response to a consultation to help shape the future of veterans’ policy, Humanists UK has raised concerns to the Office for Veterans’ Affairs about support available to non-religious veterans. Humanists UK highlighted how non-religious veterans are underserved in terms of pastoral care, and overlooked by national Remembrance ceremonies.

The latest UK armed forces demographics show 38 per cent of regular forces declare that they have no religion. This has risen over the last decade, from 15 per cent in 2012 (reflecting trends in wider society, in which around 70 per cent of young people now identify as non-religious). Humanists UK highlighted that this indicates that the veteran population is becoming increasingly non-religious and that this must be considered in policy development.

Humanists UK drew attention to the need for non-religious veterans to have access to like minded pastoral care on an equal footing with their religious counterparts. In particular, NHS Trusts need to implement and embed the new guidelines that make clear that hospitals should make equitable and inclusive provision for non-religious pastoral care alongside religious chaplaincy.

Humanists UK also highlighted that non-religious veterans are disadvantaged by unequal outcomes in relation to mental health, rehabilitation and parole prospects when they are in the criminal justice system, with little or no access to the like-minded pastoral support that religious prisoners can access. Non-religious prisoners are unlikely to accept the support of religious chaplaincy in lieu of non-religious pastoral support.

Humanists UK was dismayed that the non-religious were excluded entirely from some of the questions about religion and belief. These questions related to whether veterans from particular communities faced stigma, or if their contributions were adequately recognised. The exclusion of those holding non-religious beliefs from these questions entirely implies that the non-religious are overlooked in these two areas, perpetuating the lack of recognition and the stigma that is being asked about. This is particularly pertinent because, while some Remembrance ceremonies demonstrate some openness towards inclusion, this is often as a minority part of mostly Christian ceremonies. For example, national Remembrance services held in Westminster, Cardiff and Belfast continue to be acts of Christian worship, making it difficult for the non-religious to engage in any meaningful way.

Director of Humanist Care Clare Elcombe Webber commented: “While we’re pleased to see the Office for Veterans’ Affairs opening this consultation, we are incredibly disappointed to see the non-religious excluded from some of the questions that have only been asked of religious communities. This exclusion is played out every year when non-religious veterans feel unable to fully participate in Remembrance ceremonies, where their contributions should be recognised alongside and on par with their religious colleagues.

“The non-religious veteran population is continuing to grow. It is so important that their specific needs are considered by policy makers. This includes increasing non-religious pastoral care available in hospitals and in prisons to meet the growing demand from veterans in healthcare settings and in the criminal justice system. Last year, we saw some steps in the right direction with the publication of new NHS guidelines and formation of the new Chaplaincy Faith and Belief Forum in prisons. However, we will continue campaigning until equal access to religious and non-religious pastoral support is secured.”

* The consultation closed on 4 January 2024. The outcome will be available shortly, here.

* Source: Humanists UK