Wednesday, 26 February 2014

How much do we owe our soldiers, sailors and airmen?

About a year ago, the then chairman of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body, Prof Alasdair Smith, was sacked after he had defied an order to limit pay rises for troops.

I fail to see how such an increase could have compensated for the additional pressure put on Forces families by redundancies and defence cuts - "deteriorations in the conditions of military life" as he put it - unless as an attempt to "boost morale" among those still in Service. The recommendations were:
  • 1% increase in basic pay for soldiers, sailors, airmen
  • 0.5% increase in the "X-factor".
The "X-factor" is a supplement to the standard wages, meant to reflect the hardships and uncertainties of life in the Forces. It increases overall pay to 14% more than a comparable civilian salary. There's also an additional daily allowance while on deployment ("away from base for more than 7 days").

Apparently, the pay rise would have cost a total of £40million - on an on-going basis, presumably. In a time of public sector pay freezes, as well as defence cuts, this wouldn't go down well. Sometimes there's a disadvantage in numbers.

On a side note:
At the time, (Jan 2013) Defence Secretary Philip Hammond was quoted stating  "We will have a smaller Armed Forces but they will in future be properly equipped and well funded, unlike before." - Well, The Royal Navy will be without a working aircraft carrier for years and the Desert Rats will lose their tanks.

At the same time, changes to state pension mean that Service personnel will have to pay higher National Insurance contributions - with a new Armed Forces pension scheme to be introduced in 2015.

But it doesn't end there.

There are numerous examples where service personnel affected by redundancy were given wrong information about the amount of their pay. Some opted for voluntary redundancy, based on misleading figures. Only later did it transpire that some of them had, for example, "gaps in their service" and their entitlement would be considerably less - many ended up in debt. In some cases, those affected might not have asked all the relevant questions. But how can they? They are used to being looked after, not to being suspicious. There is a responsibility on the part of the MoD to make sure those affected have all the relevant information before they are asked to make a decision.

Life in the Services is still not conducive to a thorough and systematic preparation for life in civvy street - especially if the individual plan was a lifetime career in the Forces!

The final tranche of redundancies have been announced. But the impact will be felt for years to come. Thousands are now still in the process of leaving. Veterans still face numerous prejudices in civilian life and when they approach civilian employers. I have written about how the Deputy Chief of the Defence staff talks about "transferable skills". Yes, of course I know all about it! But many civilians don't want to know. The media like to focus on PTSD and veterans in prison. And, again, there's the disadvantage in numbers - even organisations who have traditionally employed Service leavers wouldn't be able to cope with the demand now.

While many Service leavers will eventually make a successful transition - many won't. The CTP is a good idea, but in many cases it doesn't even scratch the surface.

The MoD hides behind the contract they've signed and washes their hands of anybody past the point of Service. But there's something they should worry about.

The research I was involved in all those years ago didn't only look at how redundancy impacts on those who are affected by it; we also looked at those who didn't have to leave - poignantly called "survivors of redundancy".
  • They worry that there will be redundancies again in the future and that they might be hit;
  • They lose trust in the organisation;
  • Increased fear and loss of trust lead to reduced engagement - while some will "try even harder" to prove that they are worth their money. (Which, of course, will have no impact whatsoever on future redundancy selections.)
  • People will stop calling in sick - putting themselves and others at risk.
Statistics can always be read in many ways - here's my excerpt from the Armed Forces Continuous Attitude Survey 2013. (I don't have the complete tables, only the "key findings".)
  • 28% of Service personnel are dissatisfied with Service life
  • 29% rate their morale as "low"
  • Only 28% feel valued in their Service
  • 44% consider their workload as "too high"
  • 61% have not taken all their annual leave (an increase compared to the previous year)
Pay and benefits, on the other hand, were of little concern! (It would appear it only comes into play during the search for employment outside the Forces.) Overall, in the 2013 survey, there was support for the ethos of being in the Service, people are proud to serve, consider the systems to be supportive and fair and give huge credit to their immediate superiors. But for how much longer?

It will be interesting to see the 2014 results.

Finally, let's have a look at what the British public thinks - bearing in mind that "the public" is where our future recruits are coming from:
  • They think very favourably of the UK Armed Forces in general and of the three Services;
  • They think that the UK needs strong Armed Forces, that they make a positive contribution to the UK and offer value for money to the tax payer.
  • The public do NOT think that
    - the Armed Forces are well equipped,
    - have appropriate levels of pay and benefits;
  • And the public are divided whether or not the Services look after their people.
Unfortunately, this positive image of the Forces in general does not seem to extend past the end of the Service. The Forces are only appreciated as long as they are a separate entity. Apparently, the current recruitment drives for the Reserve Forces are not overly successful. Does that surprise anybody?

In contrast, the public think very unfavourably of the Ministry of Defence - they do not offer value for money, don't support the troops enough and don't engage sufficiently with other stakeholders.

Only 4% of the public feel confident that they know what the Armed Forces Covenant is about.

Maybe not surprisingly, the autumn 2012 "engagement index" for MoD employees showed a decline in all areas of engagement - and those who responded don't generally expect that the report will be of any consequence.

Let's hope that Lord Ashcroft's Veterans Transition Review is.

Because we do owe our soldiers, sailors, airmen:
  • appropriate pay;
  • decent living conditions;
  • support for their families;
  • first-class training and equipment;
  • preparation for the life post-Services - which will, inevitably, come one day;
  • and ongoing support.
They should be able to be proud of having served - unreservedly - rather than try to hide it in their CVs.

This country needs a much greater awareness of what veterans can - and want to - contribute to civilian organisations (and to society in general). This is a joint responsibility - it shouldn't be left to the MoD alone. But the MoD could well take on a coordinating role, rather than leave it to thousands of "military charities" to pick up the pieces - all with their own overheads, quite a few of them currently under investigation.

It's not an issue of pay.
It's about respect and recognition.

James Kirkup in The Telegraph online, 15/03/13, 10:09am (26/02/14)
James Kirkup in The Telegraph online, 22/01/13, 11:29am (26/02/14)
Steven Swinford in The Telegraph online, 25/01/13, 10:00pm (26/02/14)
Ministry of Defence (2012). Autumn 2012 Survey "Your engagement index"
Ministry of Defence (July 2013). Statistical Series 6 - Other Bulletin 6.03 - Armed Forces Continuous Attitude Survey 2013
MOD and Armed Forces Reputation Survey Spring 2012: Topline Findings March 2012 (26/02/14)

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