Forces Pay

Independent: 11 September 2006, p26.

British soldiers risk death for less than the minimum wage
By Kim Sengupta

British soldiers risking death in Afghanistan and Iraq are being paid about half the national minimum wage. The troops, facing daily attacks in Helmand and Basra, and suffering a rising toll of dead and injured, are among Britain's lowest paid workers.

In the midst of a recruitment crisis, with soldiers being sent to highly dangerous conflicts with little monetary reward, commanders believe an improvement in wages is essential to maintain morale. General Sir Richard Dannett, the recently appointed head of the Army, said: "There are issues like basic pay. A Para with a year's training at Catterick, engaged in Helmand, is taking home £1,150 a month. Is that enough? Is that fair?"
The discontent over pay comes amid growing concern about casualties being suffered, especially in Afghanistan from a resurgent Taliban. Doubts have been expressed about the tactics being pursued. The former aide-de-camp to the British task force in Afghanistan, Captain Leo Docherty, of the Scots Guards, who has just left the Army, said the campaign in Helmand was " a textbook case of how to screw up a counter-insurgency".
The average salary of a newly qualified soldier is £14,300 before tax - compared with about £20,000 for a police officer. In a combat zone, being on duty for a minimum of 16 hours gives the troops an hourly rate of £2.45. There is also a longer service separation allowance of about £6 a day, but this only applies to those who have served at least 12 months away from home.

This is well below the current national minimum wage of £ 5.05 an hour, which is due to rise to £5.35 next month. In reality the figures for soldiers' earnings are even worse. In Helmand, where British forces are involved in some of the heaviest fighting in the Army's recent history, there is little respite from incessant attacks and they are, in effect, on duty all the time. Lt-Gen David Richards, the British commander of Nato forces in Afghanistan, said soldiers were enduring "days and days of intense fighting, being woken up by yet another attack when they have not slept for 24 hours. This sort of thing has not happened so consistently, I don't think, since the Korean War or the Second World War. It happened for periods in the Falklands, obviously, and it happened for short periods in the Gulf on both occasions. But this is persistent, low-level dirty fighting."
The soldiers get free accommodation and food while based in combat positions such as Helmand. But they still pay council tax on their barracks rooms in Britain, and, back home, they also pay for food and board.
A British officer who has recently returned from Helmand said: "The wages paid to the privates is well below the minimum wage. Frankly, they would make more money emptying dustbins. They are being treated appallingly. It is not, of course, just what they undergo in combat, but the after-effects from these places as well. With our men it took a few weeks to get over what they experienced in Northern Ireland. After Iraq it took more than a year for many of them."

Anthony Bradshaw, who saw combat as a private in the Pioneer Regiment during the Iraq conflict in 2003, said: "Our take-home pay during training was £650 a month after the deductions. When we were in Iraq it rose to £800 a month. No one can say that the pay of a private soldier is good. It certainly does not lend itself to any luxuries." Pte Bradshaw, 22, was injured in Iraq and now receives a war pension and income support. "This does not add up to much either. Being a current or ex-soldier hardly makes you rich," he said.

The Ministry of Defence is looking at a series of options to boost the income of soldiers. They include proposals that soldiers will no longer pay tax while on operations overseas and payment of college fees.
The armed forces were to be brought into the minimum wage structure by the incoming Labour Government in 1997. But the idea was dropped after pressure from the then Defence Secretary, George Robertson, who claimed it would put the military into a financial and legal straitjacket.


And in the Times: 12 September 2006:

A man's job on a boy's salary

[...] Meanwhile our own young soldiers struggle, suffer and sometimes die.

In the harsh terrain of Afghanistan a separate misery is enacted. After the short-lived Defence Secretary John Reid wrote a sanctimonious letter to journalists explaining, as if to toddlers, that British troops were merely peacekeepers, we have rapidly reached a chaotic situation where Sir Richard Dannatt, the head of the British Army, cautions that it can “only just†cope. One of the few former soldiers in parliament, Sir Peter Tapsell, adds: “We couldn’t do this job if we had a hundred thousand men there.â€

The Prime Minister’s response is to put on a sober tie and speak of “standing firmâ€, as if he was quelling a Cabinet-room squabble. He also coos about our “capable, committed and dedicated Armed Forcesâ€. So does Mr Brown. Yet note this: neither pays much attention to the treatment of those forces. It has taken Sir Richard to remind us that the military were never brought under minimum wage legislation, and that private soldiers risking death daily in our theatres of war often earn half of that minimum. He spells it out: a man with a year’s training, engaged in Helmand, is taking (or more likely sending) home £1,150 a month —“Is that fair?â€

Our soldiers abroad pay tax — unlike US servicemen, and unlike those Revenue-dodging offshore businessmen so dear to party fundraisers. A newly qualified squaddie facing suicide bombers, snipers and rockets round the clock earns two thirds of a British policeman’s wage; in a combat zone the 16-hour watches give an hourly rate of £2.45 and in Helmand, getting off duty after 16 hours is often a pipe dream anyway — fighting goes on for days. After Reid gaily said that they could leave “without a shot firedâ€, and beetled off to insult the Home Office, they are fighting a confused war in the hardest conditions possible. On peanuts. Even the separation allowance of £6 a day only kicks in after 12 months. Oh, and they pay council tax on their barracks rooms back in Britain.

The Ministry of Defence will no doubt write a stiff letter to The Times saying that it is “looking at a series of options†for improving military pay; but face facts, Gradgrind, facts: the present situation has continued unchanged through nine years of pronouncements about social justice and four years of distant wars.

I relay this not only because it needs underlining, but to make a philosophical point. Governments cannot really change very much in most civilian lives. They cannot really make us eat better or smoke less, have happier marriages or quieter children. All they can do is keep the infrastructure efficient, control predatory malefactors and refrain from gratuitously making our lives difficult. Hard though it is for current ministers to accept, we each retain a lot of leeway to go to hell in a handcart in our own way. We have many daily choices.

But soldiers are different. Service people place themselves under obedience; they agree to be a tool of the State, not to ask questions or flounce off on a whim. Soldiers have to go to war even when they think it’s a nonsense; they are bound by loyalty to their fellows, Queen and country. Politicians are given the awesome responsibility of deploying this human loyalty, and they therefore have a massive duty of care towards the military, who are at their mercy. It is far greater than any imaginary duty to nag the rest of us about our weight, tell us how to think about Islam or pay us compensation for tripping over paving stones. [...]

Service pay has never realy been good when compared to civilian life, especially for the junior rates. The RN was a good option back in the days of taking prizes as even the lowest would get a good lump sum from a 'good' campaign. There was a short time in the late 60s (last century) when 'Gannex' Wilso introduced the 'Military Salary' for the services, but his inflation fuelled public spending eroded all the benefits in a few short years so that by the early 70s a young AB neede rent allowance to be able to pay the rent demanded by the MOD for his married quarter.

Over the past couple of decades any of the benefit in kind that a serviceman got has been taken away or it's value eroded, so yes their pay is pitiful. The real problem is I don't see this government or the next being prepared to do very much about it, even if retention and recruitment fall as solving the problem will be very costly, and there is not the vote grabbing power of paying service men well for the job they do. Whilst people are complaining about Tonies war here and Tonies war there they are not going to support the idea that the men who actually do the fighting getting decently paid for massaging Tones ego. Those who leave either through injury or to try and get a decent wage will fare not better as this country has no respect for those prepared to die for it.

It is all very sad.

Well to be fair to HMG, I've been in my present public sector job for over 20 years and my take home pay is less that £1,150 a month - but then I'm not risking my life in the front line. The only thing that gets me is that I'd be better off living off disablement benefits than working full time - but I don't want to when I'm able to work! :lol: Also you know if you go for a public sector job you'll get paid much less than were you working in the private sector. With mental health problems you never get the chance to work in the private sector for long, though. I can't complain. Life could be much worst and luckily I have alternative sources of income.

We have a joke at work: the only people who can afford to work for my employer are those with private means or a second income. It's a good thing we have so many ex-servicemen here, or they'd have to increase our salaries and your taxes! :lol:
All very true, but the point made earlier was that todays squaddie or AB gets less than a constable, or a fireman, also public service employees who arguably are no higher skilled and in jobs that are no more dangerous, yet in general the public don't view them as not worth their pay.

In my opinion servicemen and women in the UK get a raw deal, do the governments dirty work and then get dumped on the scrap heap.



War Hero
Maxi wrote: All very true, but the point made earlier was that todays squaddie or AB gets less than a constable, or a fireman, also public service employees who arguably are no higher skilled and in jobs that are no more dangerous, yet in general the public don't view them as not worth their pay.

In my opinion servicemen and women in the UK get a raw deal, do the governments dirty work and then get dumped on the scrap heap.

Agree entirely. The real insult comes when the same serviceperson is then tasked to go and take on the duties of the said firemen whilst they strike over poor pay and conditions of service. Barking!

Place I'm in at the moment is full of NATO pers from all over. Most of them are very well looked after by their own country and get paid a lot of extra allowances to be here; a number don't pay tax either. The Americans have a great package for their WIA and KIA pers and for those who agree to serve (subject to conditions) there is already free college fees, medical benefits for families, and much more.

It does seem that pretty much everyone except the Brits are doing well here. What's worse though is that the economies of many of these countries are not nearly in as good shape as ours. If they can afford it ....

I would suggest that a root and branch review of how much servicemen and women are paid is long overdue. As I have said before the Military Salary was a good job, even if it was devalued by inflation and money grabbing in the treasury after a few years.

The lads and lasses need a good basic pay that reflects both their skills and their value to the nation backed up by proper allowances for both additional qualifications and 'active service'

Some how I don't see any hope of this under nulabor.



The real insult comes when the same serviceperson is then tasked to go and take on the duties of the said firemen whilst they strike over poor pay and conditions of service. Barking!

Too right, and who whould do the armed forces job if they were to strike?


Just to carry on my rant, it's always annoyed me (and others I know) that the forces have to pay tax while on ops, I don' t understand this, a member of my family was recently in Iraq and spoke to some Yanks about this, and found out they don't have to pay tax when out of the US on ops, I dont' often say this but I think they may have the right idea for once.
Welbexian_RN said:
Just to carry on my rant, it's always annoyed me (and others I know) that the forces have to pay tax while on ops, I don' t understand this, a member of my family was recently in Iraq and spoke to some Yanks about this, and found out they don't have to pay tax when out of the US on ops, I dont' often say this but I think they may have the right idea for once.
There is a certain incongruity in a greatful government giving you cash with one hand and then taking a chunk of it away with the other. The important thing realy though is whether the lads get a fair level of pay for the job they do, and I think most of us would agree they don't.

If not paying tax makes it work then OK, it would give a pay rise without a change in the defence budget, although leave that nice chap Gordon with a bit of a hole in one of his buckets, which he would probably try to claw back.

At the end of the day we need proerly paid services with resources to do the job the government asks them to do. At present they are both not properly pain and not adequately resource, what ever the political spin out of the MOD is.

Maxi_77 said:
All very true, but the point made earlier was that todays squaddie or AB gets less than a constable, or a fireman, also public service employees who arguably are no higher skilled and in jobs that are no more dangerous, yet in general the public don't view them as not worth their pay.

In my opinion servicemen and women in the UK get a raw deal, do the governments dirty work and then get dumped on the scrap heap.

Peter I agree. I'd just typed a long considered reply and Explorer gave me an error message and wiped the lot! So I'll give a shorter reply. Police pay is generous regardless whether the officers are stationed in a safe office environment or on the beat in a 'no-go' zone. Their generous pay is supposed to reflect the antisocial hours they do and the danger their job may entail. It does therefore seem perverse that servicemen who face much greater antisocial hours and living conditions, and face the very real possibility of death or serious injury should be paid a great deal less when they should in fact be paid a great deal more.

I also think it is important that pensions should be more generous to reflect the psychosocial consequences of service. I do simply mean that they should be higher to allow for possible reduced earning capacity, but that they should be available after a shorter period of service. I also think that every serviceman & ex-serviceman should have access to quality psychiatric services when s/he needs it and for as long as it is needed - which are suited to the needs of ex-service personnel.

My son was recently Paid £25,000 to sign on for an extra year, after tax it was £14,800, plus he lost his family credit or whatever its called, £25,000 should mean £25,000 should it not? they wanted him.
So then Always - when you going to apply for a job with the Armed Forces Pay Review Body then?

Unfortunately not: I'm too biased Silver!

I am just thinking about some arguments that might be presented in any future campaign for change. One strong one you could borrow from the House of Commons is the justification for their own generous pension provisions applying to yourselves. The important thing being to carefully craft your argument around the facts and avoid being emotional or sounding bitter. In order words a dispassionate case in favour of similarly favourable treatment.

higthepig said:
My son was recently Paid £25,000 to sign on for an extra year, after tax it was £14,800, plus he lost his family credit or whatever its called, £25,000 should mean £25,000 should it not? they wanted him.
It does seem a bit rich to offer him £25K for it only to turn out to be substantially less. So Hig will you be writing to you MP about this?* Are any services/ex-services organisations doing anything? If not, why not?

*I've PM'd you about this.

More on Forces pay (letters) in today's Times...,,59-2356590,00.html

The King's shilling won't sustain our soldiers

Sir, Libby Purves’s comment on army pay (“A man’s job on a boy’s salaryâ€, Sept 12) was welcome. Many army families find it very difficult to make ends meet because of the disgracefully low basic salaries awarded to junior soldiers: £13,866 for a private compared with £19,918 for an 18-year-old trainee firefighter, who is also paid overtime.
This year army families have also had to face above-inflation increases to the charges they have to pay for (often poor quality) accommodation, as well as having to pay council tax. Soldiers’ homes are generally situated in isolated rural garrisons where there are few opportunities for their families to work; high rates of unemployment are compounded by a lack of affordable childcare. Schools struggle to accommodate the high mobility of army families but receive no extra support or recognition from the DfES. NHS dentists cannot accommodate army families, who cannot afford the cost of private dental care.

As Libby Purves says, “politicians have a massive duty of care towards the military†and that includes paying soldiers a decent wage.

Chairman, Army Families Federation

Sir, I joined the Army in 1954, serving for 31 years and retiring as a major in 1985. I joined the Civil Service, and 12 years later my pay was four times what it had been in the last year of my Army service. But, unlike my civilian counterparts, I had started a mortgage at the age of 38. Most of my friends and family were almost finished paying theirs.

There is no doubt that the standards of loyalty, dedication and professionalism in our Armed Services are as high as anything you would find in civilian life. However, if the Government continues to ignore this message then we should not be surprised if our servicemen and women vote with their boots.

Camberley, Surrey

Sir, A soldier is not paid by the hour, he is paid by the day: 365 days per year, whether he is being shot at in Afghanistan, lying on his bed in barracks or clubbing in Ibiza on leave.

I served as a commissioned officer in the RAF and my son is currently preparing to deploy to Iraq. In my experience, few servicemen complain about pay; rather they complain about kit. My son would be safer travelling through the streets of Basra in the new, heavily-armoured Cougar Mastiff fighting vehicle. Instead, he will have to make do with the old, lightly-armoured “Snatch†Land Rover. This is where our politicians don’t fulfil their duty to our armed forces.

Journalists should stop tabulating pay rates and campaign for better equipment.

Melksham, Wilts

Sir, Our Service personnel would at one time in history have been regarded as heroes. Today they are tools in political and economic wars; where the real commanders are so removed from the battlefield that there is no understanding between the person at the top and the soldier at the bottom.

Television adverts never mention the possibility of being killed, or what the actual rate of pay and conditions are. The package is made to seem attractive to those whose choices are limited. Surely this is a case of false advertising?


Sir, I have tried many times to point out the gross anomaly between the low level of pay for servicemen and women and that of people in similarly dangerous professions, whenever a policeman or a fireman complains to the media about their poor pay and conditions.

The pay and pension schemes of UK Service personnel are not as good as that of our former colonial cousins in Australia, Canada and New Zealand, let alone the US, and neither do we have access to naval and military hospitals, as is the case with American veterans.

Kesgrave, Suffolk


War Hero
Going back to the tax issue, I was once told that the reason tax is paid on deployment is that RN warships are soverign territory... but didn't cigs use to be tax free??

I'm confused.
If you are paid from a UK based employer then you are liable for tax on earnings. Its to do with the pension payable when you reach 65[at present ]

Do personnel serving in the Iraq areas get Local overseas allowances and possible hard lying money ??? I think they are excused paying the food and accomodation .

Yes it is a bit of a shite hourly rate for the job. A Serviceman is on call 24 hours a day wether he's dodging bullets or loafing ashore in a home billet.


War Hero
Of course if you raise the issue of pay with anyone of importance you will get told 2 words - "living expenses".

How Pay as you Dine will affect pay I'm not sure. Will pay increase to accomodate it?
I would imagine use of dining halls will decrease, especially ashore and on board jack will be more fussy what he eats, thats if they have to pay at sea, who knows with this Government.


War Hero
Not taking breakfast is a self inflicted wound, so you are therefore legally required to take breakfast yes? Under the new system we will be forced to pay for it... isn't that extortion? Which is illegal. Let's get the lawyers in :D
Ex-servicemen: Pensions

Mr. Mates: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if the Government will offer ex-servicemen who retired from the armed forces before 31 March 1973 the opportunity of buying their wives a forces family widows pension at half-rate on an actuarially calculated, no cost basis. [215086]

Derek Twigg: No. It would be difficult, in equity, to extend the half rate pension to widows whose husbands had left the service before 31 March 1973 because they had not contributed financially towards the improvement. It has also been the long-standing policy of successive governments that discretionary changes to improve the benefits offered by public service pensions schemes should be implemented for future service only.

HC Deb 15 July 2008 c306W
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