Operational Effectiveness of the Armed Forces
Independent Defence Authority – January 2022 Update – 31 January 2022
Passage of the Armed Forces Bill, but major issues are still unresolved
The Armed Forces Bill has now received its royal Assent, but many of the real issues were omitted, notably ducking one of the most important provisions of the Women in Defence Parliamentary Report, also enshrined in the Lyons Report, namely that all cases of rape and sexual assault would be removed from the military courts and tried in the civil courts and the creation of a truly independent complaints system. In addition, a sizeable number of other issues affecting serving military and veterans continue to surface. Some of the most egregious are set out below.
Sunday Times exposure of soldiers guilty of violence allowed to continue with careers
In a two-page spread on30 January 2022, the Sunday Times laid bare the horrific facts that serving members of the Armed Forces are continuing to carry out acts of violence, including murder, against women (usually their wives and girlfriends living on military bases) and often being allowed to stay in the Armed Forces, and even advancing their careers. Independent charities have been vocal in stating that there is a systemic problem with violence being perpetrated by men serving in the Armed Forces, and the hierarchy, and units, such as the Royal Military Policy (RMP) are not taking these claims seriously. In addition, frightened women and children, either still have to live with the perpetrator, or have to make themselves homeless to escape. Moreover, the Armed Forces are still neither recording all violence incidences as a whole, as raised in a formal report dating back to 2018 by Stuart Douglass, nor crucially reporting these acts of violence on individual personnel reports. https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/9bfdf8a8-8074-11ec-afe3-4426f55f9ac6?shareToken=bc707554a87aeda67112b1b4954e42ea
Hollow messages from the senior Armed Forces hierarchy
There has been radio silence from the MoD and Armed Forces in taking further the recommendations from the Secretary of State’s extraordinary Management board in November 2021, primarily to address inappropriate behaviours. All senior officers had agreed to address what the MoD described as “core and cultural issues”. There have been just platitudes from the hierarchy, as, for example, in his first speech as CDS in December 2021, Adm Tony Radakin, declaring that the Armed Forces had, “to strive to do better” in every “aspect of our leadership”. … That includes reflecting the diverse nation we serve. Because if we don’t, then quite simply, we risk looking ridiculous.” It is instructive that the retiring Second Sea Lord, Admiral Nick Hine, called eloquently for change and transformation across the board in the Navy, otherwise, “we will fail and we will lose”. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2022/jan/12/royal-navy-will-fail-without-reform-says-outgoing-deputy-chief
Meanwhile, the US leads the way – sexual harassment in the Armed Forces is now classified as a crime
On 26 January 2022, US President Biden signed an executive order making sexual harassment in the Armed Forces a crime. An independent commission, appointed by US Defense Secretary, Lloyd Austin, had concluded that removing decision about prosecuting sexual assault from the military chain of command was the only solution. Ben Wallace has stated that the UK should learn from best practice from close partners; this is a case in hand, having spurned the opportunity to include this in the Armed Forces Bill. https://www-thedefensepost-com.cdn.ampproject.org/c/s/www.thedefensepost.com/2022/01/27/biden-harassment-military-crime/amp/
Combat effectiveness – nearly one in five service personnel unfit for duty
MoD figures have revealed that 27,000 personnel are currently unfit for combat. More than 13,000 from the three services cannot leave the UK because of their physical or mental health. Furthermore, an additional 13,786 personnel are classified as being of medically limited deployability – meaning they could leave the UK but would not be considered fit to take part in any combat operations. Of this number, there are 4,000 said to be suffering from mental health problems. About 101,000 troops have been downgraded over the past four years. The issue is that these numbers have not changed for many years, showing that measures and policies are not fit for purpose. https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/17198438/armed-forces-manpower-crisis/
Mental Health Issues abounding within the Armed Forces
In December 2021, the MoD announced that a flagship unit to improve mental health in the Armed Forces will be delayed for two years, until November 2023. This means Ministers have already reneged on a promise to set up a new team to get swift support to troops before they suffer post-traumatic stress or other combat conditions. Nearly half of all medical discharges in the past year were due to mental health issues. The number of personnel seen by the MoD’s specialist mental health service has fallen by 1,900 over four years to just 3,157. https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/17083516/armed-forces-mental-health-delay/
Case study – Devastating Effect of Afghanistan operations on 2 RIFLES
As the largest British infantry regiment, undertaking more operational tours in Afghanistan than any other unit, they not only suffered the highest corresponding casualty rate in the army, but, subsequently, at least 22 serving or former RIFLE soldiers have died through suicide or misadventure since 2011. Many ex-2 RIFLES members, suffering from PTSD, have made it clear that being thrown into the NHS, along with the general public, to be seen by professionals who have no PTSD training is woefully inadequate.
Leo Docherty’s mentioned to the the House of Commons on 15 November 2021 that, “We are trying harder than ever before and investing a huge amount of money in Op Courage, which is the bespoke mental health pathway for veterans in the national health service, but really this is about a broader challenge of reducing the stigma of mental health challenges.” Again, hollow words on the part of the Government, which also overlooks the facts that Op Courage only covers England, and veterans are still reporting very patchy services and a lack of understanding of their true needs.
Continuing suicides – shocking figures.
Just before Christmas 2021, two soldiers took their livesat the Larkhill Base, Salisbury. In the aftermath, the MoD spokesman stated, “We are committed to the mental health and wellbeing of our Armed Forces. All personnel are supported by dedicated medical services, which include a 24-hour mental health helpline, resilience training before, during, and after deployments, and annual mandatory mental health training.” Unfortunately, Armed Forces’ suicides have hit their highest level for 15 years. In 2020, 21 serving personnel took their own lives – the highest number since 2005, but represents a comparatively higher proportion due to the shrinkage of the Armed Forces. Up to 82 veterans also killed themselves in 2020.
We are pleased to see that in December 2021, the Government launched a study to investigate the suicide risk amongst veterans. This investigation is long overdue, but it will be meaningless unless preventive measures, support mechanisms and action plans are quickly put into place, with oversight provided by an organisation with teeth and independence. (The creation of an Independent Defence Authority (IDA) would easily provide this). https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-national-confidential-inquiry-into-suicide-and-safety-in-mental-health-ncish-suicide-in-former-service-personnel-of-the-uk-armed-forces/the-national-confidential-inquiry-into-suicide-and-safety-in-mental-health-ncish-suicide-in-former-service-personnel-of-the-uk-armed-forces-study
Long-standing issues with the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme continue to be publicised
Several national newspapers have run stories in mid-January 2022 about the continuing damage to mental health and the deep inequities within the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme where the default position for claims is ‘No’ and many feel forced into poverty or are plunged into protracted and expensive fights to try and succeed in their claims. Owen Thompson MP has published an Early Day Motion, seeking a debate in Parliament in the next few weeks. https://www.mirror.co.uk/money/benefits-system-drives-veterans-poverty-25990915
Inadequacy of the MoD backed PAX personal injury insurance scheme
Wounded serving and veterans are feeling doubly aggrieved as they are receiving inadequate insurance pay outs. A recent case is of an ex-Special Forces member, who was offered around £15,000 by the scheme, for an injury incurred in Afghanistan. After the soldier hired a lawyer, the offer was increased tenfold to £150,000. General Lord Dannatt, the former head of the Army, has voiced his concern about the inequities of this scheme; “PAX has been supported by the MoD, it has been well marketed to serving troops and, on that basis, they have confidence that if they buy units of PAX insurance they can expect, in the event of an injury, a no-quibbles pay out proportionate to the injury sustained. “
Impregnable Government machinery
Lord Agnew’s resignation letter to the Prime Minister in January contained the line, “It has certainly not been through want of trying, but the Government machine has been almost impregnable to my endless exhortations.” This is a sentiment that is reflected in Johnny Mercer’s social media posts about the MoD and an observation the IDA and many other organisations share. It adds to the inevitable ‘told you so’ additional embarrassment Ministers could be subject to in the press, should incidents like the one that has just been dealt with by a Service Chief, ever get played out in public rather than behind closed doors, as the IDA has facilitated. As it an ongoing issue that could have destroyed the Global Britain brand, embarrass not just a Service Chief but also the Secretary for State, other Ministers and the Prime Minister, not to speak of causing Her Majesty severe embarrassment, details will only be made available privately. The MoD’s continuing stance of not engaging with the IDA will inevitably backfire on them publicly at the highest levels.
Some uplifting news
That Leo Doherty has announced a review into the treatment of LGBTQ service personnel pre-2000, after long-standing campaigning by Fighting with Pride. We will be tracking progress. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-60037103
In the same vein of women making some headway in the male-dominated environment, congratulations are due to Jude Kelly being appointed as the first female Naval Admiral, taking on a high-profile role. However, she remains a lone representative, as all the other circa 40 Admirals, Vice-Admirals and Rear Admirals are all male.