Armed Forces Day: A brave face on sinking morale Annual 24 June celebrations planned by MoD to boost morale, as recruit dissatisfaction grows 40% of armed forces personnel ‘actively seeking’ jobs outside of military London, 24 June 2017 - Armed Forces Day takes place on Saturday with the Ministry of Defence (MoD) calling the day a ‘much-valued morale boost for troops,’; yet the 24 June events come amid sinking satisfaction in the armed forces with 62% of army recruits saying morale is ‘low’ and just 34% saying they would recommend joining to others. This year’s official event is hosted in Liverpool and events are planned nationwide for the annual day, designed to celebrate the UK’s armed forces, veterans and their families. However, Armed Forces Day, first held in 2006, arrives at a time of growing disillusionment among service personnel and mounting questions over military funding and recruitment targets. The MoD’s annual survey of armed forces personnel (AFCAS), published at the end of May, highlighted the growing internal dissatisfaction. It revealed only 36% of non-officer ranks across armed forces rate their own morale as ‘high’, while soldiers’ perceptions of morale across the Army as a whole have plummeted 12 percentage points from 2016, with 62% ranking it as ‘low’. Eight per cent of non-officer personnel reported that they intend to leave the armed forces as soon as possible and 4% had already handed in notice. Two in five (40%) were actively or very actively searching for jobs outside the armed forces. Poor morale, dissatisfaction with pay, impact on family life, and low job satisfaction, were all key factors influencing decisions to leave. Information obtained by Child Soldiers International under the Freedom of Information Act reveals that last year 2,100 soldiers left the Army without completing their minimum service period. Of these, more than one-third (35%) had joined the Army before their 18th birthday. The Army has been heavily criticised in recent years for targeting 16- and 17-year-olds for recruitment into its most dangerous and least popular roles in its efforts to address shortfalls, including by all four Children’s Commissioners across the UK. Last year under-18s made up 24.1% of Army intake. In January, the Army launched its newest advertising campaign, “This Is Belonging”, at a cost of £3m to try and push up recruitment figures and forthcoming Armed Forces Day events are another key recruitment tool by the MoD. The adverts target young people’s perception of the Army as a place of camaraderie and adventure. But with almost a third (27%) of army recruits actively disagreeing with the statement ‘I feel a strong personal attachment to their unit’, this belief may be misplaced. The MoD has said that enlisting minors “presents an opportunity to mitigate … shortfalls particularly for the infantry.” Army recruitment is well short of the MoD’s 82,000 target and funding issues mean some believe the figure could be drastically reduced over the coming months. “Armed Forces Day forms part of the MoD’s recruitment strategy to present young people with a highly edited, sanitised image of armed forces life which does not reflect the reality experienced by serving personnel,” said Rachel Taylor, spokesperson for Child Soldiers International. “The annual MoD survey of armed forces personnel shows shockingly high levels of disillusionment within the armed forces. The fact that one in three recruits enlisting under the age of 18 drop out with four years shows that many recruits were misled about what to expect when they enlisted. “Whatever you believe about the UK’s armed forces’ enlistment age – one of the lowest in the world – young people deserve to know the truth before they make a decision about signing up.” ENDS Notes for Editors: Armed Forces Day is on Saturday 24 June and Liverpool is the host city for 2017. Veterans for Peace will be holding a counter event to Armed Forces Day in York on 24 June. They will hold a series of events at the Quaker Meeting Centre and the New York Working Men’s Club during the day. The UK is one of fewer than 20 countries in the world which still enlist 16-year-olds; the large majority of countries worldwide now recruit only from age 18 or above. The UK is the only permanent member of the UN Security Council which still recruits 16-year-olds. In the United States the minimum recruitment age is 17 years, but minors only account for around 5 per cent of annual intake. (Full figures available on request). Supporters of the campaign to raise the UK armed forces’ enlistment age include: Child Soldiers International, ForcesWatch, Veterans for Peace, Children in Wales, National Union of Teachers (NUT), Medact, Children in Scotland, Wales UNCRC Monitoring Group, Wales Observatory on Human Rights of Children and Young People, Together (Scottish Alliance for Children’s Rights), Amnesty International UK, Children England, the Children’s Commissioners for the four regions of the UK, Children’s Rights Alliance England (CRAE), Liberty, The Who Cares? Trust, Northern Ireland Children’s Law Centre, British Institute of Human Rights, the Church of Scotland, the Church in Wales, General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches, Methodist Peace Fellowship, Baptist Peace Fellowship, Quaker Peace and Social Witness, Pax Christi, Plaid Cymru, and the Green Party. The Defence Select Committee (2005, 2013, 2014), the Joint Committee on Human Rights (2009, 2010) and the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (2002, 2008, 2016) have all called on the MoD to review the minimum recruitment age with a view to raising it to 18 years. The AFCAS report also revealed that 14% of soldiers reported being the victim of bullying, discrimination and/or harassment in the past year. 63% or respondents who had experienced such behaviour stated that they didn’t report it formally because they didn’t believe anything would be done about it. Child Soldiers International is an international human rights research and advocacy organisation seeking to end the military recruitment of any person under the age of 18. Sources  Ministry of Defence, Armed Forces Continuous Attitude Survey 2017, released today and available at https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/armed-forces-continuous-attitude-survey-2017.  Open letter to the MoD from Children’s Rights organisations, 23 May 2016, https://www.child-soldiers.org/shop/open-letter-to-the-ministry-of-defence-from-childrens-rights-organisations-1. See Notes for Editors below for full list of supporters.  Ministry of Defence, UK armed forces biannual diversity statistics 2016, 1 October 2016. Available at https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/uk-armed-forces-biannual-diversity-statistics-2016. Table 8a shows intake by age in the 12 months to 30 September 2016. The figures cited refer to enlisted personnel so exclude commissioned officers, who cannot join below the age of 18.  MoD, Policy on recruiting Under-18s (U18), 2013, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, Ref. FOI2015/00618, available at https://www.child-soldiers.org/freedom-of-information-requests.  com, Pledge on troop numbers dropped as army chiefs prepare for further cuts, 3 June 2017 https://www.politicshome.com/news/uk/defence/defence-funding/news/86443/pledge-troop-numbers-dropped-army-chiefs-prepare-further. Banner image credit: Ian Capper.