Armed Forces Day has been marked annually since 2009 to raise awareness of and celebrate the armed forces.

Here, we look at some of these issues affecting service personnel, including support for veterans and their families, personnel numbers, housing, morale and pay.

Why an Armed Forces Day?

The previous Labour Government introduced the first Armed Forces Day in 2009 to raise awareness of and show support for the armed forces, their families, reservists, cadets and veterans.

The national event takes place in a different city each year – this year it is in Salisbury – but local events are taking place throughout the country. The Armed Forces Day website helps find events local to you. This year it is on Saturday 29 June.

Support for Veterans

The D-Day commemorations drew attention to veterans. As of 2017, there were an estimated 2.4 million UK armed forces veterans living in households across Great Britain. Over 60% were aged 65 or over and the vast majority were male. The Government projects the number of veterans will progressively decrease to 1.6 million by 2028, as older veterans die at a higher rate than personnel leave the forces and become veterans. The demographic profile of veterans will also change, with increasing numbers of female and working-age veterans.

The Government published a new Veterans Strategy in 2018 which “sets the intent for veterans public services across the UK to work towards”. The strategy is for a ten-year period and will be reviewed in 2023. Measures include improving collaboration between organisations and improving the collection of data to identify and address the needs of veterans.

Numbers of personnel

There are three main ways to measure the number of military personnel (also known as strength): the total full-time UK Armed Forces, total full-time trained UK Armed Forces, or the total full-time UK Regular Forces.

The total full-time UK Armed Forces is the most comprehensive of the three measures. It comprises trained and untrained members of the UK Regular Forces, Gurkhas and full-time reserve service personnel (FTRS). The total strength was just under 153,000 at 1 April 2019.

The total full-time trained UK Armed Forces is perhaps the most important measure as this is what the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review (2015 SDSR) personnel targets are based on. The full-time trained strength is 7% below the 2020 target of 144,200. The Army has the largest shortfall (8%) with 75,070 trained personnel compared to a target of 82,000.

The 2015 SDSR also re-affirmed the Government’s commitment to increase the size of the trained strength of the reserve forces (known as Future Reserves 2020) to 35,060 personnel. Overall, the trained strength of personnel within the FR2020 programme is 32,550.

The 2015 SDSR stated that by 2020 at least 15% of the intake to the UK Regular Forces should be female and 10% should be from minority ethnic backgrounds. In the 12 months to 30 September 2018, 11% of the total intake was female and 6% was from a non-white ethnic group.


Recruiting and retaining personnel has long interested MPs. The Defence and Public Accounts Committees have recently examined the Army’s efforts to recruit more personnel.

The annual survey of personnel (AFCAS) reports nearly a quarter (24%) say they intend to leave before the end of their current engagement or commission.

The impact of Service life on family and personal life remains the top factor influencing intentions to leave, followed by opportunities outside the Service and spouse/partner’s career. Job security, opportunities for sport and career development influence the decision to stay.

Satisfaction with Service life remains below the peak of 61% reported in 2009. 46% of personnel are satisfied with service life in 2019.

Royal Marines have the lowest level of self-morale, are the least satisfied with aspects of their job and are the least likely to stay compared to other services.  The Defence Committee examined the future of the Royal Marines in 2018 amid uncertainty about cuts to numbers and basing. MPs have also raised concerns about the drop in morale amongst the Royal Marines over the last few years.

50% of Service families report feeling disadvantaged about family life and don’t feel part of the wider Service community. The Army Families Federation reports annually on Army families’ concerns. The Federation says housing and employment are major issues families raise with them. The Federation examined barriers to spousal employment in a 2018 report.


Subsidised accommodation is considered a key part of the ‘offer’ given to serving personnel. Satisfaction with the overall standard of Service accommodation remained fairly steady in 2019 after a large decrease in 2016. The decrease was connected to the then poor performance of the maintenance/repairs contractor and the introduction of a new system to assess rental costs. Just over a fifth of Service Families moved for ‘Service reasons’ over the past year while a similar number report moving three times or more in the past five years.

The Ministry of Defence is piloting a new ‘Future Accommodation Model’ (FAM) for Service personnel to increase choice for families, particularly those who are single, are in long-term relationships (but not married), have partial custody of children or who don’t want to live in military accommodation. The Families Federations report “much confusion and some anxiety” amongst the Service community about the long-term plans for Service accommodation under the FAM programme.

Pay, pensions and compensation

The levels of pay and charges are set by the Government based on recommendations by the Armed Forces’ Pay Review Body (AFPRB), which is independent of the MOD. 

The Government-imposed pay freeze meant an increase of 1% in base pay across ranks in the period 2013 to 2017. At the 2017 Autumn Budget, the Government confirmed the “end of the 1% pay policy”. The AFPRB recommended a 2.9% pay award for 2018-19, which the MOD chose to implement as a 2% increase in pay with a 0.9% non-consolidated one-off payment.

The Government is currently considering the AFPRB’s recommendations for 2019/20. (PQ) The AFPRB is one of a number of Pay Review Bodies.

The Armed Forces Pension Scheme (AFPS) is an unfunded, defined benefit occupational pension open to most members of the armed forces. It is non-contributory for members but the value of pension benefits is taken into account in setting pay.

The Defence Secretary intends to bring forward legislation “as soon as parliamentary time allows” to provide better compensation for those injured, or the families of those killed on combat operations. The Government has yet to publish its response to its 2016/2017 consultation on its proposals and a number of bodies, including the Law Society, expressed concerns about the proposed scheme.

The Armed Forces Covenant

The Armed Forces Covenant was introduced in 2011 and is a statement of the moral obligation which exists between the nation, the Government and the Armed Forces in return for the sacrifices they make. Its core principles were enshrined in law in the Armed Forces Act 2011, although the Covenant does not create legally enforceable rights for service or former service personnel. The Government produces an annual report on the Armed Forces Covenant. The Defence committee is expected to publish its report on the 2018 Covenant report soon.

Further reading from the Commons and Lords libraries

Armed Forces Day




Pensions and compensation

Armed Forces Compensation Scheme

Armed Forces Covenant

Image: HQUKTF-2010-011176 by ResoluteSupportMedia. Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)