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73% Of Military Families Have Spent Christmas Apart, Research Finds

Charity SSAFA says more civilians will be able to relate to the separation felt by the forces after COVID-19.

A survey has found that 73% of the military community have previously been separated from their families at Christmas.

As many families plan to mark the end of a difficult year because of COVID-19, a survey by forces charity SSAFA has found that a high proportion of military families have spent festive seasons apart.

In November, the research surveyed 2,023 members of the public, and 517 respondents in the military community, and found 2020 has seen many take on similar feelings of separation as is commonplace in the forces community.

The 73% figure among the military members differs from the 51% of the civilian population asked, who said they had never spent Christmas apart from their loved ones.

A typical duration for separation is between one to nine months – due to training, deployment or geographical distance, according to 67% of those surveyed.

SSAFA chief executive Sir Andrew Gregory said that, despite 2020 entering its festive period, a "significant proportion of personnel" are away on deployments.

"[The deployments] are not high-profile in the media at the moment because, obviously, the country’s focused on COVID," he said.

There are about 14,000 service personnel on standby over the winter period to assist with COVID-19, with personnel also helping with the construction of vaccination centres

"Service personnel, as is always the case, will be separated from loved ones – that is part of the deal when you joined the Armed Forces," Sir Andrew said, adding things do not get "any easier" for families over the years.

"Unusually, in 2020, many other people have also experienced separation and that will probably help them identify with the stresses that military families and military personnel face when they are separated from loved ones."

Johnny Mercer during an interview 270220 CREDIT BFBS
Veterans Minister Johnny Mercer has joined SSAFA in raising awareness of separation within the Armed Forces.

The charity wants to promote conversation among members of the military who feel the negative effects of separation from loved ones and for those who miss the comradery of the Armed Forces when they leave.

Coronation Street star Antony Cotton, an ambassador for SSAFA, spoke to Veterans Minister Johnny Mercer on behalf of the charity about overseas deployment during the festive period.

The former Army officer-turned MP, who has served in Afghanistan, said: "The first couple of times you do it I think there’s kind of a novelty to it.

"But once you’re on your third or your fourth one, you know what? It gets really, really tough."

Sir Andrew said the number of people seeking help from SSAFA having recently left the military had "more than doubled" to 600-plus cases, adding the charity's mentoring service is particularly involved in helping those people to find housing and employment.

With reference to members of his own family who had served, the charity boss maintained the importance of getting certain ones back on their feet.

"We are here to help people regain their independence and their dignity – nothing, nothing is more important than that," he said.