Army recruitment campaign hits the mark
In January the British Army came under direct criticism for being too politically correct. Not an accusation that you might have expected.
A new recruitment campaign was launched, not under the traditional banner of: ‘be the best’, but exploring themes of inclusiveness, diversity and mental health awareness. It engaged with recruits and asked questions like ‘can I practice my faith in the Army?’ and ‘what if I get emotional in the Army?’
The Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Nick Carter, who spearheaded this new campaign came under attack by a number of former Army Officers and some areas of the press, who argued that it wasn’t the role of soldiers to be ‘nice’ and that this would make the Army too ‘soft’. They argued that the campaign would not attract the ‘right’ sort of person; men and women who are willing to fight and kill where necessary. The controversy has rumbled on, with the Telegraph reporting recently, and with some concern, that Army Officers were at risk of being passed over for promotion if they had not improved ‘inclusiveness and diversity’ in their units.
This is a blinkered perspective and we have first to consider the factual background:
- The Army is facing a retention crisis. It has seen historic cuts in numbers, job satisfaction has fallen and benefits have been slashed. According to figures released in 2017, 58% of service personnel are either ‘neutral’ or ‘unsatisfied’ with service life in general.
- Recruitment within the services was 24 per cent less than the target in 2016-17. Army recruits have traditionally been white males aged between 16 and 25. There are fewer of these ‘typical’ recruits today, and British society is a changed demographic. But the representation of ethnic minorities in the British Army has consistently been low; the most recent government statistics in April 2017 show that ethnic minorities make up only 2.9% of Officers, and 11.9% of other ranks in the Army. In fact, the Army outshone the Navy and RAF in respect of diversity. The figures are still bleak.
We should also consider the stresses that come with the job, quite apart from the prospect of combat itself, which may influence recruits:
- The Army suffers from horrendous levels of harassment, which General Carter acknowledged was ‘unacceptable’. In fact, he commissioned research into this, which found in 2015 that 4 out of 10 women in the service had experienced unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature. There are many high profile stories in the press, such as that of Corporal Anne-Marie Ellement, which would cause any potential recruit real concern.
- Soldiers are also more likely to suffer with mental health issues than civilians. Perhaps not surprising, given the trauma that they endure. But the figures are worrying. There was a 90% increase in medical discharges relating to mental health over the period 2012 to 2017. The mental health charity, Combat Stress, saw a 71% increase in its referrals over the same period. They and many similar charities have been struggling to find the resources to tackle the problem.
So we might conclude a few things:
- The majority of soldiers are either unhappy or apathetic about their service life
- At least some of that unhappiness is because of issues like harassment or mental health
- Soldiers are leaving the Army, fewer are joining, and it will have to find new talent
Bearing all of these things in mind, are we surprised that the Army is casting a wide net and looking to recruit from different genders, sexualities, ethnicities and faiths? This is just common sense. If a recruit fulfils the mental and physical requirements, then why should it matter if they are black, or gay, or of a particular faith? It doesn’t (or at least it shouldn’t).
Should we also be surprised that the Army is seeking to reassure recruits that mental health issues will be taken seriously and soldiers supported? No, given the treatment crisis that is brewing, this commitment is crucial, if not necessarily sustainable.
But aside from what is essentially a human resource problem, we also have to ask ourselves a wider question, about the sort of society that the Army protects. The majority of our society believes that it is not ‘okay’ to be racist, sexist or homophobic. That diversity and inclusiveness should be encouraged. Should our soldiers behave any differently? No, they shouldn’t. They are also part of our society and must reflect it, inside and out. Many of them already do and new recruits need to be guided into being professional, moral soldiers that we can be proud of. These changes in attitude are crucial if the Army is to modernise and continue to thrive.
Please read my related article in the Huffington Post:
Ahmed Al-Nahhas is a solicitor and partner in the Military Claims team at Bolt Burdon Kemp. If you or a loved one have a claim, contact Ahmed free of charge and in confidence on 020 7288 4818 or at AhmedAl-Nahhas@boltburdonkemp.co.uk. Alternatively, complete this form and one of the solicitors in the Military team will contact you. Find out more about the Military team.