North Wiltshire MP James Gray hosted the launch of a new report, Meeting the Needs of the Serving RAF Community, from the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund in the House of Commons last week. The report finds that the biggest challenges our serving RAF personnel and their partners are experiencing include mental well-being difficulties, social isolation and partner employment opportunities.

The research reached almost 10 per cent of serving RAF personnel and was conducted with the support of the RAF. The key findings are:

  • relationship difficulties and loneliness were the top major issues reported by RAF personnel and partners;
  • 52% of RAF personnel said they had experienced community or social isolation within the past few years;
  • 42% of partners said loneliness had been a problem they had experienced;
  • 39% of RAF personnel and 48% of partners reported problems with their mental well-being within the past few years;
  • 27% of RAF personnel said they had experienced marriage or relationship difficulties in recent years;
  • 76% of RAF personnel say they tend to prefer to deal with their problems alone than seek help;
  • 39% of RAF personnel said they had been too embarrassed to ask for help in the past;
  • frequent station moves, distance from close relatives, deployments, irregular shifts, anti-social hours all contributed to feelings of social isolation.

In response to the findings, the RAF Benevolent Fund today announced a multi-million pound response to the RAF’s key needs, as highlighted by the research in the report, and is in addition to other on-going work and support already provided. Some of this will be delivered through grant funding, while other programmes will be tested via pilot schemes first to ensure that they are effective and valued before consideration is given to rolling them out further.

  • Enhancing mental well-being among individuals by funding access to the mindfulness app Headspace for RAF personnel.
  • Enhancing social engagement, increasing connectivity and reducing isolation and loneliness by piloting Station Engagement Workers, providing funding for facilities and play parks, and expanding its flagship Airplay youth support programme on RAF Stations.
  • Increasing the employability and well-being of RAF partners by piloting workshops and seminars.
  • Enhancing and strengthening family relationships by completing and evaluating a pilot providing well-being breaks for RAF families across the UK.
  • Increasing awareness of the range of support that is available to the serving RAF community, ensuring more people receive support in times of need by developing a digital tool which provides an easy-to-access source of information.

Mr Gray said: “As a Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Armed Forces and the Armed Forces Parliamentary Trust, I am aware of the sacrifices our Armed Forces make every day, serving their country. I whole-heartedly support the measures announced today by the RAF Benevolent Fund and congratulate them on their wide-reaching welfare initiatives, targeting the entire RAF Family.”

Air Vice-Marshal David Murray, Chief Executive of the RAF Benevolent Fund, said: “If we didn’t know it already, this project has reminded us that RAF personnel and their families demonstrate incredible resilience on a daily basis, as they wrestle with the challenges of modern-day Service life. However, given the increasing complexity of some of the issues faced, there remains a requirement for targeted support to assist serving RAF families during periods of need.”

“Working closely with the RAF, the Fund has developed a package of practical initiatives that will make a real difference to the lives of RAF personnel and their families in the areas that have emerged from the research.”

In his foreword to the report, Secretary of State for Defence Gavin Williamson MP said: “The extensive support that the charity currently has in place is already impressive and highly regarded by both myself and the Chief of the Air Staff. But the additional projects the Fund has committed to develop in the coming years, in direct response to this report, will make a substantive difference to RAF personnel and their families in need and distress.”

This year the annual Christmas lights switch on in Royal Wootton Bassett will include a variety of acts including The Carnival Royalty, RWBA Dancers and the Local Youth Network to name but a few.

Royal Wootton Bassett Town Council and organiser, Lisa Williams, have launched a fundraising effort in order to show the event on a screen for all to see. Local MP, James Gray, has voiced his support for the cause:

“This is a wonderful opportunity to bring the community together and encourage young people to get involved and build their confidence. Having a large screen projecting what is happening onstage would make an enormous difference and enable locals and visitors alike to clearly see the performances throughout the evening.

I hope people will dig deep as this is an extremely worthwhile cause and one which will benefit the whole community.”

The Royal Wootton Bassett Christmas lights switch on takes place on Friday 30th November at 6pm.

An Act of Remembrance was held on Monday in Westminster Hall to commemorate the centenary of the end of the First World War and remember the Parliamentarians and House staff who sadly lost their lives. It was well attended by Members of both Houses as well as by staff and passers-by. Three wreaths were laid by the Speaker, Lord Speaker, and James Gray in his capacity of Chair of the APPG for Armed Forces. Following an injury sustained last week, Mr Gray arrived on crutches and stated:

“It is extremely important that, as a country, we take time each November to remember those who fought during the World Wars. We must not forget the sacrifice that these soldiers made, and I am extremely proud to have taken part in the Act of Remembrance in Westminster Hall today.”

It is vitally important that my constituents should be kept fully up to date on my views at this great moment in our history. I have received many hundreds of letters in the aftermath of last week's momentous events. The interesting thing is that with the exception of a few arch loyalists, who are (quite rightly) impressed by Theresa May's stoicism and determination in the face of deadly enemy fire; with the exception of them, every single letter - from Brexiteer, Remainers and a broad spread of opinions in between has called on me to oppose the appalling proposals put before us last week.

I have for many months joined with others in trying to persuade the PM to see reason, and face up to the political reality that her ' Chequers proposals' simply do not achieve what the 52% were demanding- namely a clean break from the EU. The EU were ready to accept a free trade area, akin to that successfully negotiated with Canada. And the Irish Border question can easily be solved using electronic methods, in precisely the same way as we do with 90% of our imports from outside the EU.

Yet the proposals she has now negotiated are a great deal worse than Chequers. They tie us in, perhaps for ever, to a Customs Union; they give the European Court of Justice superior powers to our own courts; and they risk splitting the union asunder. I will not repeat the 40 fatal flaws which are so neatly spelled out in the attached Spectator article.

Not only all of that, but we are proposing to give them £29 billion for the privilege of becoming an EU vassal state. That is enough to pay the salaries of 26,000 nurses for 40 years.

So, I will without question be joining a great many of my colleagues in voting against these proposals when the Prime Minister brings them before Parliament in early December. If we can collectively defeat them, then I will be seeking a fundamental renegotiation with the EU. They must be made to understand that we will only agree to a Free Trade Area arrangement akin to Canada, and that if they do not agree to it, we are ready simply to walk away.

Most of the world’s trade is done under World Trade Organisation terms. So, I am increasingly coming to the view that while I would much prefer a 'deal' with the EU, it is by no means a requisite for a prosperous and healthy economy in the years to come. The EU need us at least as much as we need them, but only some tough taking will finally make them realise it. We must be ready for a free trade area after 29 March, whether they like it or not.

To those who have written to me to call for a new leader for the Conservative Party in the hope that that would lead to delivering an outcome along these lines, I would simply say that I have consistently argued that it should be about policy rather than personalities. The PM must be made to understand the strength of our feeling against the deal she is proposing. If she does not do, and insists on ploughing ahead with it, then it starts to become about personalities. After all, her two Brexit Secretaries have resigned in disgust at the direction of travel, making it clear that it must be coming from the very top.

I firmly believe that we can retrieve the situation and move towards a free trade agreement. If we do not at least try to do so, then Mrs May must bear personal responsibility for having let down the 17.5 million people who voted to leave.

James Gray MP has today pledged support for the Long Live The Local Campaign to help pubs in North Wiltshire keep their doors open. James Gray joins the more than 100,000 people who have signed the petition so far, including 194 in North Wiltshire.

James Gray MP is calling on the Government to cut beer tax at the Budget. With £1 in every £3 spent in UK pubs going to the taxman, British drinkers now pay 40% of all beer tax across the EU, but drink only 12% of the beer. Brewing and pubs in North Wiltshire supports 1284 jobs and contributes £29.6m to the local economy.

Commenting on the campaign, James Gray MP said:

“Pubs are at the heart of communities across North Wiltshire, but with three British pubs closing their doors for good every day the Government should consider a cut to beer tax. I’m supporting the Long Live The Local campaign and calling on the Chancellor to cut beer tax at this year’s Budget to support pubs in our local communities.”

Brigid Simmonds, Chief Executive of the British Beer & Pub Association, said:

“Beer duty has increased by 60% over the last 17 years and now the UK has one of the highest rates of tax in Europe. When over two thirds of all alcoholic drinks purchased in the pub are beers, a cut in beer tax would go a long way to protecting pubs across North Wiltshire. We are very grateful to James Gray for supporting the Long Live The Local campaign, and hope that the Government listens to MPs across Parliament and the tens of thousands of people across the country who are calling for a cut in beer tax to protect our pubs.”