Veterans Badge HM Armed Forces Veteran Defence Imagery MOD

The Changing Face Of The Veterans Population

Who are veterans, what do they look like and how will they change by 2028?

Veterans Badge HM Armed Forces Veteran Defence Imagery MOD

You might be forgiven if, when asked to imagine what a veteran looks like, you conjure up images of older, primarily white men walking past the Cenotaph while proudly wearing medals won in conflicts past. And for a significant chunk of the modern veteran community, that description may ring true. 

However, the whole picture, in 2021, is that our veteran community is made up of diverse groups, ranging in ages across the living generations of today's Britain.

A 2020 factsheet published by the UK Government detailed the modern makeup of the British veteran community. And while there are, as mentioned, large numbers of veterans living today in their late sixties and older, there is a notably-sized cohort of former members of the Armed Forces who are younger.

The report detailed that:

  • There are approximately 2.5 million veterans alive today in the United Kingdom.
  • 40 % of those veterans are under 65 (also known as 'of working age').
  • It is estimated that roughly 1,500 service leavers become veterans every year.

Younger Veterans

There are no longer any British veterans in the UK who served in the First World War and the numbers of those who served in the Second World War are diminishing rapidly.

With the numbers of women and ethnic minorities who serve in the United Kingdom’s Armed Forces increasing and larger numbers of younger veterans leaving the military, it is important for the government and the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to understand what the future demographic of the veteran community will look like in order to help facilitate their transition back into the civilian population and workplace.

This will take a huge step forward when the results of the recent 2021 Census are revealed in a couple of years time, as for the first time ever, the population has been asked questions in the survey around previous Armed Forces service. An outcome of this will be that a clearer understanding of the makeup of Britain's veteran population will exist.

People Diversity Men Women Credit ID : 591469

How Many Veterans Live In The UK?

The MoD has forecast how the veteran's profile is likely to change by 2028.  Based on figures from the 2017 Annual Population Survey (APS), it was thought there were roughly 2.4 million former service personnel residing in Britain (an estimated 5% of household residents aged 16 and over).

However, by 2028, the Government expects the number to have decreased to 1.6 million veterans. And of that number, 43.7% will be of working age (a slight increase when compared to the 2017 figures of the APS report).

Who Are Veterans And What Do They Look Like?

Veterans are aged 16 or over, reside in the UK and have served a minimum of one day in the Armed Forces.

In 2017, 60% were aged 65 or over and predominately white (99% compared to 1% BAME). 89% of the veteran population was male.

What About Female Veterans?

When the list was first compiled, the numbers included mainly male veterans, many of whom served in the Second World War and/or undertook National Service - which was an explicitly male only system. National Service ended in 1960.

The projected figures for 2028 naturally include more females (who also have a longer life expectancy than their male counterparts).

Why Are Veteran Numbers Predicted To Decrease?

In 2017, there were an estimated 2.5 million veterans of which, 49% were aged 75 or over.

By 2028, the number of veteran deaths will be greater than that of service leavers, and so this will be reflected in the number of veterans living in the UK at that time.

Working Age Veterans

There is an expected rise of working age veterans (aged 16-64) from 37% to 44%, the percentage of female veterans from 10% to 13% and the overall total is expected to reduce to around 1.6 million. (Just over half of these will be of retirement age).

What Is The Difference Between The Number Of Employed Civilians and Employed Veterans?

Working-age veterans were as likely to be employed as non-veterans (79%).

Veterans are less likely to have a degree (21% compared to 30% of non-veterans) but much more likely to have gained qualifications through work (60% compared to 43%).

RAF Reservist on Uniform to Work Day Defence Imagery Credit: SAC Victoria Eden
Credit: SAC Victoria Eden

What Are The Differences Between Veteran And Civilian Occupations?

Big differences were noted in the 2017 report regarding the type of occupations younger veterans take up when leaving the services (age range 16-34).

They are deemed less likely to work in ‘professional occupations’ (11% compared to 20%) and more likely to work as ‘process, plant and machine operatives’ (18% compared to 8%) than their civilian equivalents and less likely to work in ‘professional, scientific and technical activities’ (2% of veterans compared to 8% of non-veterans).

For working veterans overall (16-64 years of age), there are ‘no differences’ when compared to non-veterans in terms of the occupations and type of industries although female veterans are ‘significantly more likely to work in the ‘public admin and defence industry’ than employed female non-veterans’.

This sector includes emergency and security services (NHS, MoD, Prison, Police and Fire Services) and government jobs, for which ex-Forces personnel tend to have transferrable skillsets.

Welsh Civilian Police Officer Heddlu NATO Summit Cardiff Wales Defence Imagery

Where Are Veterans Most Likely To Live?

The South West and South East are estimated to have the largest demographic of veterans (29%) compared to the North East which has less than 6%.

Wales, West Midlands and East Midlands have between 6-8% of the population and the rest of the UK has between 9-11% of the population.

Unemployed And ‘Economically Inactive’ Veterans?

Figures suggest there are no differences between veterans and non-veterans in either category (3% unemployed and 18% economically inactive).

What About Homeless Veterans?

The ‘projections are likely to be an undercount of at least 100,000 … driven by the exclusion of veterans who were homeless or living in ‘communal establishments’.

Homeless Veteran Vet Personnel London Credit Defence Imagery British Army
Credit: MOD

How Are The Statistics Calculated?

The statistics were compiled using results from approximately 290,000 respondents (excluding Northern Ireland because of security concerns) and were compared to the estimated non-veteran population.

Respondents were defined as being aged 16+ and are members of a household (not living in communal areas like care homes or prisons or homeless).

There was no assumption that differences highlighted are caused by service because the length of service was not taken into account.

The findings are not unusual given a large number of people who join the Armed Forces directly after leaving compulsory education (in 2017/18, 42% of those joining the Armed Forces were aged between 16-19) and the MoD offers significant opportunities to gain qualifications through both work and study.

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