The 2021 Census in England and Wales included a question on veterans for the first time. On 10 November the Office for National Statistics (ONS) published its first release of this data.

This Insight explores what the data so far reveals about the UK’s veteran population.

Why ask about veteran status?

The 2021 Census in England and Wales asked all respondents aged 16 or over if they had previously served in the UK armed forces (including both regulars and reservists). Anyone who has served in the armed forces for at least one day is classed as a veteran.

The intention behind this is to improve understanding of the veteran community, which up until now has been limited. This will help the Government, service providers and others to target funding and support for veterans in line with the Armed Forces Covenant.

The Armed Forces Covenant is a statement of the moral obligation which exists between the nation, the Government and the armed forces. It promises to ensure that those who serve or have served in the armed forces, and their families, are not disadvantaged compared to other citizens.

Scotland’s Census was delayed until 2022 but contains an identical question on veterans. This data will be released in approximately a year’s time. The Census in Northern Ireland did not ask about veteran status, although future estimates will be produced by linking data with the Ministry of Defence’s Service Leavers Database (PDF).

How many veterans are there in England and Wales?

On Census Day (21 March 2021), 1.85 million people in England and Wales reported that they had previously served in the UK armed forces. This represents 3.8% (almost 1 in 25) of the total population aged 16 or over.

Of these, 76.3% (1.41 million people) previously served in the regular forces, 19.5% (361,000 people) in the reserve forces, and 4.3% (79,000 people) served in both the regular and reserve forces.

Overall, 7.0% of households (1.75 million) in England and Wales included one or more persons who had served in the UK armed forces.

Variations in the veteran population

The proportion of UK armed forces veterans was higher in Wales (4.5% of the population) than it was in England (3.8%). Overall, there were 1.74 million veterans living in England and 115,000 living in Wales.

Within England, the regions with the highest proportion of veterans were the South West (5.6% or 317,000 veterans) and the North East (5.0% or 109,000 veterans). These were also the regions that had the highest percentage of households with at least one veteran (10.1% and 8.8% respectively).

By contrast, London had the lowest proportion of veterans (1.4% or 101,000 veterans). Here just 2.8% of households included a veteran.

A chart shows the percentage of veteran population by nation and region
Source: ONS, UK armed forces veterans, England and Wales: Census 2021, 10 November 2022

Across England and Wales, there was wide variation in the size of veteran population between different local authorities. Gosport had the highest proportion of veterans (12.5%), followed by North Kesteven (10.2%) and Richmondshire (9.5%).

Newham (0.7%), Tower Hamlets (0.8%) and Brent (0.8%) had the lowest proportion. London boroughs made up 23 of the 25 local authorities with the lowest proportion of veterans.

The ONS has produced an interactive map which allows users to explore the veteran population by local authority.

Which neighbourhoods have the highest proportion of veterans?

Data is also available for smaller neighbourhoods within local authority areas, known as Middle-Layer Super Output Areas (MSOAs).

The table below shows the top 20 neighbourhoods in England and Wales with the highest proportion of veterans, and the parliamentary constituencies they overlap with most. Alverstoke & Privett in Hampshire has the highest proportion of veterans with 15.7% of the population aged 16 and over.

Some neighbourhoods overlap with more than one constituency.

Neighbourhoods with the highest proportion of veterans

Note: The number of individual veterans in each area is adjusted slightly by the ONS to maintain confidentiality.Source: ONS, UK armed forces veterans data, England and Wales: Census 2021, MSOA TS071 dataset; House of Commons Library, MSOA Names 2021 dataset
Rank Neighbourhood Overlapping constituency Region Number of veterans % of population aged 16+
1 Alverstoke & Privett Gosport South East 949 15.7%
2 Hill Head Gosport South East 873 14.4%
3 Torpoint South East Cornwall South West 635 14.4%
4 Lee-on-the-Solent Gosport South East 1,289 14.0%
5 Clayhall & Anglesey Gosport South East 933 13.9%
6 Bridgemary South Gosport South East 793 13.5%
7 Carterton South Witney South East 624 13.5%
8 Elson Gosport South East 806 13.4%
9 Bridgemary North Gosport South East 809 13.1%
10 Fareham West Fareham South East 831 13.0%
11 Stubbington Gosport South East 800 12.7%
12 Catterick Garrison & Colburn Richmond (Yorks) Yorkshire and The Humber 1,374 12.5%
13 Ruskington West & Cranwell Sleaford and North Hykeham East Midlands 656 12.4%
14 Durrington & Bulford Devizes South West 703 12.3%
15 Catterick & Brompton-on-Swale Richmond (Yorks) Yorkshire and The Humber 593 12.2%
16 Washingborough & Branston Lincoln & Sleaford and North Hykeham East Midlands 1,100 12.1%
17 Ruskington South, Leasingham & Osbournby Sleaford and North Hykeham East Midlands 666 12.0%
18 Amesbury Salisbury South West 1,239 11.9%
19 Kingsand, Antony & Maryfield South East Cornwall South West 626 11.8%
20 Coningsby & Woodhall Spa Louth and Horncastle East Midlands 1,152 11.5%

The Library’s own interactive map allows users to explore veteran population by neighbourhood (see below). This also includes details of the parliamentary constituencies that these neighbourhoods overlap with. The map initially shows figures for local authority districts. Hover over a local authority district to view statistics for that area. Click on a local authority district to zoom to MSOAs in that area. Press the reset button to the top left to return to the local authority district view.

Veteran population by neighbourhood

When will further census data on veterans be published?

The ONS intends to release more demographic data in 2023. This will include analysis of the veteran population by characteristics such as ethnic group, religion, gender identity, legal partnership status and country of birth.

Following this, data on veterans’ housing and accommodation situation, and health and well-being, will also be published.

Later releases scheduled for 2024 will focus on employment, crime and the financial situation of veterans.

All of this analysis will enable detailed comparison between the life experiences of veterans and the general population.

Further reading

ONS, UK armed forces veterans, England and Wales: Census 2021

Commons Library, Support for UK Veterans

Commons Library, 2021 census: What are the results so far?, 29 June 2022


About the author: Esme Kirk-Wade is a statistics researcher at the House of Commons Library, specialising in defence.

Photo by Roberto Catarinicchia on Unsplash

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