First Census 2021 insights into UK armed forces veterans’ community

Almost 1 in 25 adults in England and Wales was a veteran of the UK armed forces at the time of Census 2021, new data show.

For the first time – in support of the Armed Forces Covenant – the Office for National Statistics (ONS) collected census information on the veterans’ population who have either previously served in the regular forces, reserve forces, or both.

Today’s findings show 1.85 million people in England and Wales reported that they had previously served in the UK armed forces (3.8% of usual residents aged 16 years and over), with more than three-quarters saying they had previously served in the regular forces.

The local authorities with the highest proportion of veterans include Gosport (12.5%), North Kesteven (10.2%) and Richmondshire (9.5%) in England, and Conwy (5.9%) in Wales.

“For the first time our data is able to show the vast scale of our armed forces community, which is vital information to help direct support and services where they are needed most,” National Statistician Sir Ian Diamond said. “Perhaps unsurprisingly a large proportion of our veterans live or are located near military establishments, suggesting they tend to stay in the same areas after they have left service.  

“In the coming months we will learn even more about our veterans as more census data are released, data which will have a huge impact on service personnel, veterans and their families.” 

The proportion of UK armed forces veterans was higher in Wales (4.5% of the population aged 16 years and over, 115,000) than it was in England (3.8%, 1.7 million).

Within England, the regions with the highest proportion of veterans were the South West (5.6%, 317,000 people) and the North East (5.0%, 109,000 people). These were also the regions that had the highest percentage of households with at least one veteran (10.1%, 247,000 households in the South West; 8.8%,104,000 households in the North East).

By contrast, London had both the lowest proportion of UK armed forces veterans (1.4%, 101,000 people) and the lowest proportion of households with at least one veteran (2.8%, 96,000 households).

The new census question was introduced in support of the Armed Forces Covenant, a promise by the nation ensuring that those who serve or who have served in the armed forces, and their families, are treated fairly.

In addition, and coinciding with the release of Census 2021 data, the ONS and the Office for Veterans’ Affairs have also launched a new dedicated Veterans’ Survey.

This is the first ever exercise to collect feedback from the veterans’ community across the UK coordinated by the Office for Veterans’ Affairs and the ONS.

The online survey will be live for 12 weeks, giving ex-UK armed forces personnel and their families the opportunity to provide direct feedback to the government on their experiences, access to and use of services for veterans.

Sir Ian added:

“Responses to the survey will help us better understand the experiences, needs and well-being of our veteran community, and to guide future action. It is important we hear a wide range of views. 

“We are passionate about investing time and effort to produce high quality estimates that properly help us all understand how our veterans’ needs can be best met.” 

Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Rt Hon Johnny Mercer MP said:

“The government is committed to making the UK the best place in the world for all our veterans. 

“But we won’t achieve that without knowing how many veterans there are, where they are and what challenges they face. 

“Now we know, and I urge all UK veterans to support by completing our new veterans survey so we can tailor our support and better serve our former armed forces and their communities.” 

Access more information and the full data here.

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