I often act for service personnel and veterans who have suffered long-term physical and psychiatric injuries. Their focus and attitude towards recovery seems unique and probably has a lot to do with their training and the life experiences that they have had. Many of them will tell you that you can accomplish anything if you put your mind to it and this is a constant source of inspiration to me as a civilian. In fact, if you speak to anyone in the UK Armed Forces, whether in the British Army, Navy or RAF, you will often be impressed by their commitment and attitude.
Unfortunately, in more recent years the attitude of service personnel towards their service has fluctuated and dissatisfaction has created a retention crisis. This happens when more personnel leave than those who are joining. So what are their concerns and what is making them unhappy?
The Ministry of Defence carries out a regular survey of all service personnel and the latest one has recently been published: The Armed Forces Continuous Attitude Survey 2019 can be downloaded here.
Some of the results of the Survey are positive. For example, around 75% are proud to serve and this has remained a feature for many years. But I am concerned about some of the findings:
- 46% of personnel are satisfied overall with their service. This is actually an improvement of 5% from last year’s survey, but still way below the previous peak of satisfaction of 61% in 2009.
- Only 35% of personnel feel valued
- Other Ranks are far less likely than Officers to feel that discipline is fair (59% of Other Ranks compared to 85% of Officers)
- 93% of personnel who have suffered bullying, harassment or discrimination do not make a complaint. 57% said that this was because they did not believe that anything would be done and 50% believed that their careers would be adversely affected if they complained. This tells us that there continues to be a lack of confidence in the Service Complaints system.
Where less than half the personnel in any organisation are satisfied or feel valued then alarm bells should be ringing!
If a service person is unhappy about any aspect of their service they will normally be entitled to arise a service complaint. They have to do this within three months of the matter that they are complaining about by filling out a form ‘Annex F’ and submitting it to their line manager. Details of the process can be found here.
The Service Complaints Ombudsman for the Armed Forces (SCOAF) is responsible for providing independent oversight of the service complaints system. She has recently published her annual report, which is not encouraging. For the fourth year in a row she has described the service complaints system as not “efficient, effective or fair”. Unfortunately, the process has for many years suffered with delays. Also, according to the Survey, many service personnel still do not trust that the service complaints system is fair and some are afraid that complaining will affect their careers.
My own feeling is that the SCOAF has tried to do good work and some of this has paid off, but she has also made many sensible recommendations that have not been adopted by the Ministry of Defence. For example, she has consistently advocated for an independent review into why service women and those from minority backgrounds are suffering more bullying and harassment than others, but no review has been carried out to date. It must be difficult to achieve a fair system when these recommendations are not being followed.
For further commentary on the SCOAF’s latest report, please see my colleague Tom Spearpoint’s blog here.
Overall, the Survey shows us that some aspects of service life are improving, but not by much. There remain some areas of real concern.
A significant proportion of personnel do not feel satisfied or valued and there is a long way to go to ensure that those who have suffered bullying and harassment feel able to complain without concern of reprisals or delays. The first step to achieving this will be by making sure that the service complaints system is efficient, effective or fair. This will involve a commitment from the Ministry of Defence to follow the recommendations made by the SCOAF.
Attitudes really matter in the workplace and perhaps more so than anywhere else for service personnel, who sacrifice a great deal to serve their country, protect our interests and our values. Service personnel are by their nature very unlikely to complain, so when they are dissatisfied, when they do suffer with low morale and when they feel that they won’t get justice, then we have to listen and the system needs to change. They deserve better.
I am Partner and Head of the Military claims team at BBK. If you or a loved one has suffered bullying or harassment then please get in touch for free initial legal advice.