The government has delayed a key announcement on a pay rise for the military despite the soaring cost of living, leaving troops feeling “undervalued”, Sky News can reveal.
Military sources said the move was particularly galling because soldiers, sailors and aviators are not allowed to strike over pay but are expected to backfill for other public sector workers, such as medics and border guards, who have been protesting for better conditions.
It is understood, however, that one of the reasons for the delay is a behind-the-scenes effort to add a specific extra element to this year’s award, which will be revealed once finalised.
An internal message, seen by Sky News, informed service personnel about the hold-up.
It said the pay increase would be backdated once settled, but critics noted that this was slim comfort for those troops and their families who are struggling financially now.
“Our expertise and commitment to the country is totally abused,” one armed forces officer said, speaking anonymously.
Asked how he felt, he said: “Undervalued”.
He added: “While every other public sector is going on strike and has unions fighting their corner, we have no one and just pick up the pieces and never get a thank you.”
The internal message said: “Due to the increased scrutiny on pay review bodies and the ongoing discussions regarding pay across the public sector, the armed forces pay award for 2023 will be delayed. Service personnel can be assured that although there will be a delay, any pay award will be backdated to 1 April 2023.”
The note said that an exact date for the announcement was not yet known but it was anticipated to be before parliament breaks up in July for the summer recess.
John Healey, Labour’s shadow defence secretary, called the delay a “kick in the teeth for service communities” at a time of war in Europe.
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“From deployments to NATO’s eastern flank to keeping essential services running at home, personnel continue to serve our country with courage and distinction,” he said.
“More than a third of personnel are unhappy with their pay, and service communities will rightly be concerned about the impact this delay will have on household budgets during the cost-of-living crisis.”
Last financial year, the Ministry of Defence awarded service personnel up to the rank of one-star a 3.75% pay rise – described as the biggest percentage uplift in two decades. The most senior ranks secured a 3.5% increase.
Over the past 12 months, however, inflation has rocketed, with consumer prices in February jumping 10.4% from a year earlier.
It means even a similar pay rise this year would effectively be a real-terms cut.
At the same time, many military personnel do enjoy certain protections from the cost of living, including subsidised service accommodation, childcare and food.
But what should be a perk has become a nightmare for some because of the state of the properties – managed by private contractors – including broken heating and mould.
Ben Wallace, the defence secretary, has put pressure on the firms to fix the faults quickly.
Still, confirmation that this year’s pay settlement had been delayed came as a blow.
Maria Lyle, director of the RAF Families Federation, said: “It is disappointing that once again any news on a pay award has been delayed.
“RAF personnel and families have been subject to the same pressures on their finances faced by many across the country and this lack of certainty does not help.”
She added: “Whilst announcements within the last year around childcare funding are welcome, they are by no means available to all.
“As well as essential defence roles, members of the military have recently supported a range of public services, and some timely recognition of their vital role is really important.”
It is not uncommon for the armed force pay award announcement to be delayed, but the impact will be felt harder this year because of inflation.
A Ministry of Defence spokesperson said: “Our armed forces play a vital role and work is under way to confirm this year’s pay award as promptly as possible.
“No personnel will lose money, the award will be backdated to 1 April 2023 and builds upon a range of recent measures to support our personnel, including the biggest pay increase in 20 years, freezing daily food costs and extending wraparound childcare, saving families up to £3,000 per child per year.”