This morning I was honoured to accept an invitation from my Lib Dem colleague Tilehurst Councillor Peter Beard, a Trustee of Reading-based charity 'The Forgotten British Gurkha' , to meet a group of Gurkhas currently living in Theale. Following the successful campaign last year for settlement rights led by Joanna Lumley, Nick Clegg and backed by Reading West MP Martin Salter to enable retired Gurkhas to live in the UK the latest battle the Gurkhas and their supporters are fighting is for decent housing and financial help to enable them to survive in the UK. They are also campaigning for equal pension rights as other British servicemen - at present the are only entitled to around one-third of the pension entitlement compared to other UK servicement which is grossly unfair.
Since the historic decision on settlement rights last year last year retired Gurkhas are arriving in the UK with nowhere to live and often very little money seeking a better life. Former Mayor of Reading Peter Beard has been working tirelessly alongside retired Gurkha Chandra Burathoki and the FBG welcoming Gurkhas and their families when they arrive at Heathrow and helping them find suitable housing in and around Reading. The charity recently worked with local councils housing bodies and were successful in helping Gurkhas and their families to move out of the cramped and overcrowded rented accomodation into homes provided by the James Butcher Housing Association in Theale. The charity is also working with Reading Borough Council's empty homes officer to see if empty homes can become much needed homes for Gurkhas and their families.
The Gurkhas I met in Theale today were very warm and friendly - it was a delight to meet them. During my visit I heard from Chandra Burathoki (who acts as liaison officer for the charity) about the difficulties faced by Gurkhas and their families many of whom cannot speak much English when they arrive in the UK and who struggle to navigate the complex UK benefit system. It can take several months for them to access benefits and finding work can be difficult due to the permits required. Chandra told me he accompanies Gurkhas and their families to the JobCentre and Council Offices to ensure they get the help they need. He is clearly a very special man. The charity is also helping the Gurkhas find employment and greater independence in the UK via social entreprise projects including contract work and community projects. I think this is a great way to support Gurkhas and their families.
The work done by the Forgotten British Gurkha charity is vitally important: since Gurkhas won resettlement rights last year it is estimated that up to 12,000 retired Gurkhas and their families may leave Nepal to settle in the UK. We must not forget the Gurkhas - an estimated 45,000 Gurkhas died fighting for Britain in the First and Second World Wars - the British government must honour the committment Gurkhas have given to this country and continue to support them.
Check out this video about the experience of Gurkhas in the Reading area and how the Forgotten British Gurkha charity helped Gurkhas families move into more suitable accomodation: