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Armed Forces Pay Award Undervalues Military Personnel By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.








On the day that the government announces that 900,000 public sector workers including police, doctors, teachers (nursing staff are covered separately) are to receive an above inflation pay rise up to 3.1% [to be paid for out of existing departmental budgets] and that is combined with a special mention from the Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak that this is in recognition of the “vital contribution’ during the coronavirus outbreak why is it that members of the armed forces will only receive an award of 2%?   

The announcement that armed forces personnel will receive a rise of only 2% this year will come as a disappointment to many that had hoped that given the extraordinary job that they do and how they respond to all that is asked of them without question, that they would receive a similar level of increase to that awarded to police, doctors, teachers and others across the public sector. Affordable or not, once again it seems that the government has failed to recognise the value and importance of what our Armed Forces do.     

In normal circumstances pay awards reflect what Pay Review Bodies recommend. Last year (2019/20) the Armed Forces Pay Review Board (AFPRB) recommended a 2.9% increase in basic pay for the military backdated to April 1st 2019, a recommendation that the government accepted. But AFRRB recommendations are not always accepted by the Treasury as was the case with the 2018/19 pay award recommendation for a 2.9% increase in basic pay and which, an award of 2% backdated to 1st April 2018 although to be fair, there was also a 0.9% non-consolidated one-off payment also made.

Separately in 2018, the annual Armed Forces Continuous Attitudes Survey (AFCAS) reported that only 31 percent of personnel said they were satisfied with the basic rate of pay, the lowest level recorded since 2007. In 2019 this increased to 35% but a whopping 47% did not believe that their pay and benefits are fair for the work they do. While the figure of 35% remained well below the peak satisfaction level reported by AFCAS in 2010 (52 percent) it is worth noting that AFPRB has been noting the link between satisfaction and pay in successive reports for many years without the government taking much if any notice. In 2015, AFCAS reported that personnel felt: “the overall offer was deteriorating and they were feeling the cumulative impact on living standards of a fifth year of pay restraint.”  

In 2016 AFCAS said that it was concerned about the effect of continued pay restraint on the morale and motivation of personnel and their families, highlighting competition from the private sector with regard to retention. As noted, in 2018 personnel were unhappy that the AFBRB’s 2.9% recommended increase was not accepted in full. Bottom line is that close to half of military personnel do not believe that pay and benefits they receive are fair compensation for the work that they do and that just over half do not think the X-factor is enough compensation for lifestyle in the forces.

The AFPRB has discussed the recruitment and retention difficulties facing the armed forces, including the role of pay, in successive reports.

It warns personnel feel the “value of the overall armed forces offer has further declined,” citing changes to pensions, dissatisfaction with accommodation, food and pay increases.  

The AFPRB explicitly links motivation and morale with current recruitment and retention difficulties. National statistics show the armed forces are currently 8 per cent below the planned number of personnel. The amount of pay is cited as one of the top factors influencing decisions to leave.   

Separately although very much linked and on the same day that the government announced that the military would only receive a 2% rise in pay for the year 2020/21 I learn that a report under the title “Stick or Twist” that was commissioned by No 10, Mark Francois MP is suggesting that the MOD must spend more money on military’s people & their families and less on “shiny new equipment”… or within several years it will have insufficient personnel to operate the kit. Mr. Francois also recommends that the recommends that the MOD must:

Treat recruitment as a strategic priority

Acknowledge the process of hollowing out in the ranks of all three services and the reasons behind it.

Set a 20% target for recruiting women by 2025

Do more to nurture BAME personnel

Offer more and cheaper childcare

Create a forces housing association to help boost quality of military accommodation.

Once again and to be fair on this, the government did announce £200 million of additional funding for Armed Forces housing and accommodation last week. We were told that ‘over 5,000 personnel and their families will have their homes modernised with new kitchens, bathrooms and furnishings including re-roofing to reduce the risk of mould and damp. In total, 3,500 service homes will apparently be upgraded along with single quarters living accommodation. New windows and doors will provide better insulation and we are told that energy efficient boilers will be fitted along with solar panels and electric vehicle charging points. Families with young children will also benefit from new play areas, roads will be resurfaced and energy efficient street lighting will help modernise sites as part of the funding. The government had in the previous week also announced that children of those serving in the military will be entitled to free breakfast and after-school childcare.

The government is certainly trying and they have certainly got the message that enough is enough when it comes to the military being forced to live in damp and dingy accommodation that is even worse than some council housing. I just hope that the MOD remembers to tell the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) which has overall responsibility for defence estates along with sub-contractors such as Amey!

A House of Commons Public Accounts Committee report last year found that service families were being badly let down over maintenance and upkeep, the new report has concluded that this has been improved, although it also notes that Service Families “are still unclear as to what service levels they can expect and continue to face uncertainty around the future provision of accommodation and its costs”. Meg Hillier MP, chair of the PAC said at the time that:

“The MOD now has a strategy for tackling these but serious questions remain as to whether, in fact, that strategy is deliverable and the estate can be managed effectively in the years ahead. It is dismaying that there continues to be such instability in the MOD estate management model and we will expect it to set out the findings of its current review as a matter of urgency”. She went on to say that the MOD “intends the Defence Infrastructure Organisation to serve as an expert estate manager but it can only do so if fundamental weaknesses in its operation are addressed swiftly and that even if the MOD hits its targets for disposing of land, the overall condition of the estate has been declining for years and it faces projected unfunded estate costs running to billions. “meeting these” she suggested “will be a significant ongoing challenge which poses risks both to defence capability and the quality of accommodation available to Forces personnel and their families” adding that” there are critical negotiations to come on accommodation and it is vital the Department communicates clearly with families about what they can expect and the likely implications of any changes behind the scenes.” 

As to the suggestion made by Mark Francois in his private report for No 10 that have so far been reported there is probably not that much with which I can disagree. Mind you, as a very prominent and frequently ridiculed Brexiteer, one who is also a member of the House of Commons Defence Select Committee, Mark Francois has earned a reputation for speaking and often, speaking out of turn. That may sound a harsh criticism coming from me but then, I have always believed that one should put one’s brain into gear before speaking! This was, after all, the same MP who only last week in an HCDC hearing was audacious enough to tell Chief of Defence Staff, General Sir Nick Carter to:

“Please nip back to the department [MOD] and ask them to sort their ……… out because, if not, [Dominic] Cummings is gonna come down and sort you out his own way and you won’t like that”

CHW (London – 21st July 2020)

Howard Wheeldon FRAeS 

Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,

M: +44 7710 779785

Skype: chwheeldon



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