Racism in the Armed Forces

The Service Complaints Ombudsman for the Armed Forces and the Armed Forces Continuous Attitudes Survey indicate that Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic service personnel are over represented in the service complaints system. 

The Ministry of Defence’s own evidence to the Defence Inquiry on Women in the Armed Forces reveals a ‘white male prototype’ that can be very hostile to change and resentful of it – with black women particularly bearing the brunt. Defence Inclusivity Phase 2 – The Lived Experience Final Report 2019-OW20210414115730488

There has been some important press coverage of this issue: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p085s6kz; https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-50834217https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-55424308

More alarming is the nature of the complaints being made BAME people. Bullying, harassment and discrimination constituted around 39% of complaints from BAME people as compared with 24% for white personnel in 2018. This disproportionality is seen in figures published by the Ombudsman for previous years, too. In 2021, the Ombudsman did not publish this data.

There is a lot of anecdotal evidence that personnel are discouraged from complaining by service complaint handlers, or advised that doing so could harm their careers. 

And the Armed Forces Continuous Attitude Surveys (AFCAS) show the real impact on soldiers – with only a very small proportion of those that described experiencing bullying, harassment or discrimination having attempted to make a formal complaint at all. The most common reasons given for not complaining were feeling that “nothing would be done” and that complaining would adversely affect their career. That survey also indicated limited knowledge of the complaints system. See the guide on service complaints here: https://centreformilitaryjustice.org.uk/guide/service-complaints/

The Service Complaints Ombudsman has repeatedly asked the MoD to commission and publish independent research to be conducted into why such disproportionate numbers of BAME people are complaining of bullying, harassment and discrimination but to date the MoD has refused to do so.

For an insight into the kinds of experiences that BAME serving men and women may be experiencing, a recent court case is illuminating. 

In September 2019, the Employment Tribunal made a series of important findings concerning a claim brought by two black former paratroopers.  The tribunal found that the men had endured a “degrading, humiliating and offensive environment”, with accommodation being vandalised (including racist slurs being written on the doors) by a member or members of 3 PARA, the posting of a picture on Facebook of members of 3 PARA in front of a Nazi flag and the subjection of one of the men to horrific racist language. The tribunal found that these behaviours had the effect of violating the men’s dignity, were extremely unpleasant and had caused deep offence.

The CMJ is presently assisting a number of black soldiers that have reported race discrimination, through the service complaints process and/or Tribunal.

If you have been affected by any of these kinds of issues and would like to speak to us in confidence, please do call.

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