Out of conflict, out of mind: the impact of forgetting our Forces

  • Over half (52%) of Brits wrongly believe the UK is in active conflict
  • Almost a quarter (22%) admit they would never support a military charity
  • 43% would only support an Armed Forces charity during times of conflict
  • This Armed Forces Day, SSAFA calls on the nation to update their view of the Forces and celebrate the ‘everyday’ heroes serving our country

New research from SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity, reveals outdated misconceptions of the modern-day military are having a concerning impact on public support for the Forces.

The findings, commissioned for Armed Forces Day, show over a third of the UK (36%) do not actively support the Armed Forces, rising to 48% for those aged 16-34. Concerningly, 43% would only support an Armed Forces charity during times of conflict and one in five (22%) admit they would never support a military charity.

This lack of support seems to be linked to a widespread lack of awareness of who the Forces are and what they do. Despite the UK’s military not being in active conflict for almost five years:

  • 52% are more familiar with the roles of the Armed Forces while engaged in active conflict, then they are now
  • 50% of the public are unaware of where our Forces are based in the world, with 16% mistakenly believing the majority to still be in Afghanistan
  • 58% know more about historical military events, such as D-Day, than they do about our current military

Two thirds (64%) of those surveyed admit, when thinking of the Armed Forces, they stereotypically picture a frontline, camouflage-clad soldier or a fighter pilot.

However, this is far from reality, with the modern military having a vast infrastructure including logistics, healthcare and education, as well as national defence.

Surgeon Lieutenant Commander, Elizabeth James, a doctor for over ten years in the Royal Navy, said:

“I’ve found myself facing questions about why we need doctors in the military when we aren’t in active conflict – but people forget that there are over 190,000 people in the military at any given time, as well as their families. The Navy and other Forces are permanently deploying all over the world, both on land in support of UN missions and at Sea. They rely on good medical care, and ready support for when we are back in conflict, and that’s what the medical and nursing services are there for.

“It’s wonderful to be celebrated during Armed Forces Week, but to be understood and appreciated all year round would mean even more. That way, we would feel confident that we have the support of the public whilst we work to protect our country.”

Worryingly, a lack of knowledge surrounding the Armed Forces’ role in society today, is directly impacting military charities like SSAFA.

Keen for this to change is Sir Andrew Gregory, CEO of SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity, who said:

“SSAFA is very proud to be the official charity partner of Armed Forces Day 2019; the event allows us to thank those who serve our country in the Royal Navy, Royal Marines, British Army and Royal Air Force. The men and women in our Armed Forces, along with their families, make sacrifices on a daily basis to protect our way of life and the freedoms we cherish, something that should never be forgotten.

“As I write there are many military operations currently underway and thousands of troops stationed overseas. Armed Forces Day is an opportunity for the Nation to remember that, even when they are not headline news, our Armed Forces are working tirelessly on our behalf. Take a moment this week to appreciate the liberties and democracy we enjoy in our country; that is what those individuals are protecting.

“And when those who are serving or have served in this Nation’s Armed Forces, and their families, need emotional, practical or financial support, SSAFA is there to assist them – as we have done for the last 135 years. Your support to SSAFA will allow us, when needed, to restore the independence and the dignity of those who have selflessly served the United Kingdom, facing unique challenges in the process”.

Say “thank you” this Armed Forces Day by visiting: ssafa.org.uk/AFD

Notes to Editors


SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity, has been providing lifelong support to our Forces and their families since 1885. Last year our teams of volunteers and employees helped more than 82,000 people in need, from Second World War veterans to young men and women who have served in more recent conflicts, and their families. SSAFA understands that behind every uniform is a person. We are here for that person – any time they need us, in any way they need us, for as long as they need us.

For more information visit www.ssafa.org.uk and follow us on Twitter: @SSAFA.

About the survey

  1. Survey carried out in May 2019 by Censuswide
  2. Censuswide surveyed 2003 members of the British public (aged 16+) as part of this survey

Additional data

  1. Data taken from UK Armed Forces Quarterly Service Personnel Statistics 1 April 2019
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By @Cobseo 54 years ago

Afghanistan support

In light of recent events in Afghanistan, please find information and support resources here