London, 26 May 2017 - Morale is plummeting among armed forces personnel, the MoD’s annual survey of armed forces personnel (AFCAS) published yesterday reveals.[1] Only 36% of non-officer ranks rate their own morale as ‘high’, while soldiers’ perceptions of morale across the Army as a whole have plummeted by 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. 

These figures come at a time when the Army is facing a recruitment shortfall to reach its 82,000 target. Yet according to the AFCAS report, less than half of non-officer personnel (39%) would recommend joining the armed forces, with 34% of army recruits actively disagreeing with the statement ‘I would recommend the service to others’. 

In January, the Army launched its newest advertising campaign, “This Is Belonging”, at a cost of £3m in an attempt to try and push up recruitment figures. 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 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.[2]  Last year under-18s made up 24.1% of Army intake.[3]  Annual figures due to be published at the end of June will reveal whether this trend continues.

The MoD has said that enlisting minors “presents an opportunity to mitigate … shortfalls particularly for the infantry.”[4]

“The MoD should stop exploiting adolescents’ emotional vulnerabilities as a recruitment tool”, said Rachel Taylor, spokesperson for Child Soldiers International.

“Romanticised adverts may get thrill-seeking teenagers through the door of the recruitment office, but every year the AFCAS survey shows the ultimate consequence is a high level of disillusionment when they discover the reality of army life. 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.” 


Notes for Editors:

  • 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. Our research on child recruits in the British armed forces is available at 

[1] Ministry of Defence, Armed Forces Continuous Attitude Survey 2017, released today and available at

[2] Open letter to the MoD from Children’s Rights organisations, 23 May 2016,  See Notes for Editors below for full list of supporters.

[3] Ministry of Defence, UK armed forces biannual diversity statistics 2016, 1 October 2016.  Available at 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.

[4] MoD, Policy on recruiting Under-18s (U18), 2013, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, Ref. FOI2015/00618, available at

Image credit: Gertrud Zach