Labour’s shadow defence secretary has vowed to do more to help ex-forces personnel struggling across the North East.

John Healey, who is hoping to become the next defence secretary if Labour win next General Election, visited Bishop Auckland to speak to veterans in a bid to inform the party’s manifesto.

He was joined by local constituency candidate Sam Rushworth at the town’s football club along with charities helping veterans and public service students.

Speaking to The Northern Echo, Mr Healey said: “County Durham has just over 22,000 veterans living here. We also know that up to 1,500 are struggling so much to make ends meet they are having to claim universal credit.

The Northern Echo: John Healey and Sam Rushworth speaking to veterans in Bishop Auckland.John Healey and Sam Rushworth speaking to veterans in Bishop Auckland. (Image: DANIEL HORDON)

“It’s an even higher proportion when you look at the whole of the North East or the Northern Echo patch.

“You need to make help more easily available when ex-forces may need it and make it easier for people who are by their training self-reliant, reluctant to say ‘I need some help with this'.

“It is a failure that every year for the last 14 years the forces have missed their recruitment targets. It is a failure that serving personnel and their families are living in forces' housing which is damp, and mouldy, that the Ministry of Defence considers the accommodation they are offering more than 4,000 personnel so bad that they cannot even charge rent. It’s a failure that we have seen over recent years satisfaction of life in service has reached all-time lows.

The Northern Echo:

“This was an opportunity to hear veteran’s voices as part of a nationwide programme as we are developing our ideas, our plans and pledges for veterans for government if we manage to get elected.”

The room heard from veterans who told how fellow servicemen had struggled when they returned from the army.

Recommended reading:

Get more from The Northern Echo with a digital subscription. Get access for 4 months for just £4, or get 40% off an annual subscription with our latest offer. Click here.

One, Peter, who joined the forces in the 60s, told how he left with just a train ticket at the end of his time serving his country.

The Northern Echo: John Healey and Sam Rushworth.John Healey and Sam Rushworth. (Image: DANIEL HORDON)

Labour’s Bishop Auckland parliamentary candidate Sam Rushworth added: “It was important for me to bring John Healey to meet people here in Bishop, because our national defence is the first responsibility of any government, and I want to make clear our commitment to Britain’s armed forces – both to recruitment and training, and also to veterans.

“So it was wonderful to be joined today by volunteers from the Royal British Legion, and SSAFA, who do amazing work in our area, as well as public services students from Bishop Auckland College, who are planning careers in our armed forces, police, fire, and prison services.”