The Defence Secretary has said pay rises for armed forces personnel will be “paused” for 2021/22, unless they earn less than £24,000. Four in ten personnel do not think their pay and benefits are fair for the work they do.

The first five-year review of the pay model will take place during the 2021/22 pay round.

Here we look at how pay for the armed forces is agreed, the role of the Armed Forces’ Pay Review Body and what personnel think about their pay.

Key points

  • The public sector pay restraint limited armed forces pay from 2011/12 to 2017/18
  • Pay was increased by 2.0 per cent in 2018/19, 2.9 per cent in 2019/20 and 2.0 per cent in 2020/21
  • Pay rises for 2021/22 will be “paused”. Only those earning below £24,000 will receive a pay rise of at least £250
  • Four in ten personnel do not think their pay and benefits are fair for the work they do
  • The pay model introduced in 2016 will be reviewed during the 2021/22 pay round
  • Pay levels are set by the Government based on recommendations by the independent Armed Forces’ Pay Review Body (AFPRB).

About armed forces pay

The pay package for armed forces personnel consists of the following elements:

  • Basic pay
  • An additional payment called the X-factor
  • Additional/specialist pay, taxable and non-taxable allowances.

The pay that an individual receives will depend on their personal circumstances and eligibility for specialist pay and allowances. The starting salary for service personnel is around £20,000 and all salary levels can be found in AFPRB annual reports.

What does the Armed Forces Pay Review Body (AFPRB) do?

The AFPRB gives independent advice to the Government on pay and accommodation and food charges for the armed forces. The level of pay is set by the Government based on AFPRB recommendations. It is not part of the MOD.

The basic principle is that pay should be broadly comparable with pay levels in civilian life. However, the AFPRB is obliged to consider the funds available to the MOD, the Government’s inflation target, and the need to recruit and retain suitably qualified people. The MOD is not obliged to accept these recommendations.

The AFPRB is one of several pay review bodies that recommends pay for public sector workforces.

Recent pay awards

The Government imposed a two-year public sector pay freeze from 2011/12 to 2012/13, which meant only those earning less than £21,000 received an increase in base pay during that time.

From 2013/14 to 2017/18 public sector pay awards were capped at an average of 1%. The AFPRB recommended the same across all ranks in line with this.

The Government lifted the public sector pay cap for the 2018/19 pay round, payable from 1 April 2018. The AFPRB recommended a 2.9 per cent increase in base pay. The Government accepted “the spirit of this recommendation,” with a 2.0 per cent increase in pay (in September salaries, backdated to 1 April 2018) and a 0.9 per cent non-consolidated one-off payment.

In its 2020 report, the AFRPB said that for 2018/19 more than half of service personnel, 56.2 per cent, had no pay increase as a result of incremental pay progression.

In 2019/20 personnel received a 2.9 per cent increase. The Government also accepted in full the AFPRB’s recommended 2.0 per cent increase in base rate of pay for 2020/21.

Has the Government always accepted the AFPRB’s recommendations?

The MOD says it has always implemented the AFPRB’s pay increase recommendations, including the 2.0 per cent consolidated increase and 0.9% non-consolidated payment in 2018.

Responding to a Freedom of Information request about pay in late 2019, the AFRPB said: “the main pay recommendation in the 2018 report was not accepted by government.”

Pay “paused” for 2021/22

In Spending Review 2020 the Chancellor announced that, with the exception of NHS workers, the Government will “pause” pay rises in 2021/22.

On 3 March 2021 the Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace, wrote to the chair of the AFPRB confirming this applied to the armed forces for pay round 2021/22:

Following the Chancellor’s announcement of the public sector pay pause, the MOD will not be seeking recommendations from the AFPRB on pay uplifts for the Armed Forces in this Pay Round.

Wallace also said that “no member of the Armed Forces will experience a cut to their existing reward package” and “the pause will apply to headline pay uplifts only.”

Personnel earning below £24,000 will receive a pay rise of at least £250, in line with the Spending Review.

Are personnel happy with their pay?

The views of personnel on their pay are captured in the annual  Armed Forces’ Continuous Attitudes Survey (AFCAS). The 2020 survey shows:

The AFPRB has noted the link between satisfaction and pay in successive reports. In 2015, the body said personnel felt: “the overall offer was deteriorating and they were feeling the cumulative impact on living standards of a fifth year of pay restraint.”

It also suggested personnel felt the Government’s implementation of 2.0 per cent in 2018 was not “in the spirit of our recommendations,” and that a non-consolidated award showed “disrespect for the unique role that they perform.” The AFPRB welcomed the Government’s acceptance of its 2.9 per cent recommendation in 2019/20 as “an endorsement of the value of the armed forces.”

About the author: Louisa Brooke-Holland is a researcher at the House of Commons Library specialising in defence.

Image: A member of C Company, 3rd Battalion by Ministry of Defence Images. Licensed under Open Government Licence / image cropped.