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Informed choice? Armed forces recruitment practice in the United Kingdom
- A career in the armed forces brings opportunities and risks. Benefits can include challenging work, discipline, physical fitness, self-development, a sense of belonging and global travel. Risks include bullying and harassment, career dissatisfaction, the ‘culture shock’ of changing to a military lifestyle, mental health and relationship problems, serious injury or death, social and economic disadvantages after discharge, and unexpected ethical challenges.
- Non-officer recruitment draws mostly on young people from 16 years of age living in disadvantaged communities, with many recruits joining as a last resort. Whilst this group may gain from an armed forces career, they are generally most vulnerable to its risks.
- Career information provided to potential recruits and their parents is selective and often misleading. Recruitment literature for the army glamorises warfare, poorly explains the terms of service and largely omits to mention the risks of the career. It is common for recruits to enlist without knowing the risks or their legal rights and obligations.
- The terms of service are complicated, confusing and severely restricting. New recruits may discharge themselves within a few months of enlisting but otherwise have no legal right to leave regular service for up to six years in some cases; reserve service liability follows, usually lasting at least six further years. The restrictive terms exacerbate the effects of low morale and magnify the risks of a forces career.
- This report proposes improvement s to recruitment practice in order to protect the rights of potential recruits more effectively. These include: improving information for potential recruits; de-linking military outreach to children from recruitment activity; and relaxing and simplifying the terms of service. To achieve these changes, it would be necessary to: emphasise retention over recruitment by improving the service conditions of existing personnel; reduce the number of soldiers discharged for ‘service no longer required’; and reduce bullying and harassment. A new Armed Forces Recruitment Charter could codify best practice and lay out the state’s legal and moral responsibilities to potential recruits.
- The UK is increasingly at odds with the growing international consensus that minors should not be exposed to the risks of an armed forces career; existing safeguards for minors are only partially effective. It might be possible to phase out the recruitment of minors without affecting staffing levels; a feasibility study is needed. While minors continue to be recruited, safeguards need to be improved; in particular, it should be a requirement for recruiters to involve parents in the recruitment process more fully.
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