Armed Forces survey rings alarm bells for soldiers' rights

Posted by Emma Norton on 25 May 2017

The latest Armed Forces Continuous Attitude Survey has been published today.

Distributed to a sample of almost 30,000 troops, it provides us with a useful snapshot of the real lived experiences of the men and women in our Armed Forces.

There are some positives. Seventy-four per cent of personnel are proud to be in the services. Eighty-nine per cent say their family is proud of them.

The majority agree that they are treated fairly at work, and satisfaction with work location is at its highest level.

Encouragingly, the majority are now aware to some extent of how the Armed Forces Ombudsman – introduced after a hard-fought campaign by Liberty and the family of Corporal Anne-Marie Ellement – can help them with a complaint about bullying, discrimination or harassment.

Falling morale

But some statistics should ring serious alarm bells - especially coming hot on the heels of the Armed Forces Ombudsman’s first annual report, published last month.

The number of troops who perceive service morale as being low has increased since 2016, driven by the Army and the Royal Marines.

Satisfaction with service life has fallen 18 per cent since the peak of 61 per cent in 2009 – leaving less than half satisfied with their working lives.

Satisfaction with basic rate of pay and pension benefits are at the lowest levels recorded, and satisfaction with aspects of post-operational deployment has declined.

The number of personnel satisfied with welfare support provided for themselves and their families has remained the same as last year (54 per cent and 45 per cent respectively – which is too low).

A worrying picture

Depressingly, the numbers reporting that they have been subject to bullying, discrimination or harassment in the last 12 months remains unchanged at just over one in 10 (13 per cent).  Experiences of bullying and harassment are higher in the Army than the other services.

Of those who have experienced bullying, discrimination and/or harassment in the last 12 months, just one in 10 made a formal complaint.

Last month’s report from Armed Forces Ombudsman report showed that women are significantly over-represented among those who do lodge bullying/discrimination complaints - (despite making up just 11 per cent of service personnel, they make up 21 per cent of complainants).

When added to those figures, today’s stats paint a very worrying picture indeed.

Time for the MoD to act

Liberty is representing the families of two service men who died on barracks in 2012 and 2013 after returning from active operations overseas.

Those deaths occurred in the context of an apparent spate of eight self-harm incidents by other soldiers on the same unit.

Amongst other things, their grieving mothers have important questions about welfare support given to those returning from overseas, systems in place for spotting soldiers who are struggling and problems with the way the Army manages pay for soldiers. These concerns appear to echo those identified by today’s survey. 

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has yet to respond to the Ombudsman’s recommendations following her first year in office – some of which were very powerful and, if accepted, would go some way toward addressing these problems.

We urge the MoD to do so – and to engage positively and constructively with those who have the best interests of our service men and women at heart. 

Emma Norton

Emma Norton

Head of Legal Casework