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With more ageing, migration, and mass unemployment all having an impact, the speed of change in local society is accelerating. Some adapt but others are marginalised.

Perhaps faster than at any other point over the past 50 years, UK communities are changing – in their demographic, economy, and structure. Overall, the population is expected to grow significantly, age dramatically, and at the same time, become more diverse. Alongside this, accelerating technological change, and our response to climate change, will transform how we live, work, communicate and consume. Younger generations are expected to find themselves at the sharp end of a less secure labour market, and victims of a looming housing crisis. All of this means we are likely to see an increase in the divisions in public attitudes; between metropolitan and rural, blue collar and white collar, internationalism and nationalism.

Even before the pandemic, decades of under- investment have already increased national inequalities. Not only have they taken their toll with major infrastructure projects from broadband to sewers being put on hold, but they have also affected welfare provision, including health and education forces. The north-east of England, an area which is traditionally a strong recruitment ground for the army, in particular, has been especially hard hit.

Many who feel their lives have already been blighted by this have become disillusioned, unsupported by a system which, they believe, is skewed against them. This sense of alienation has led to some becoming attracted to extremist philosophies, generally of right-wing organisations. Some we spoke to suggest that transitioning Service personnel will be particularly vulnerable to this. Indeed, we heard from one that “the mobilisation of the extreme right wing is seen as the biggest threat to UK security.” Significant effort may be needed to protect those who are identified as at risk from becoming engaged in extreme right-wing activity, not least because of their potential to harm others, “You have people coming out of the Forces who are battle trained, with the capability and skills that could cause bigger harm.” Identifying those at risk is a challenge, “We usually first find them at a point of crisis, for example in the criminal justice system.” The inclusion of a veterans question in the 2021 census (with the exception of Northern Ireland) may go some way to address this.

Many who join the Armed Forces are transformed by the experience, and return home with very different life experiences to those of their peers, who remained civilians. This has long been acknowledged as an issue that can make the process of reintegration difficult to manage for all involved. Over the next decade, this is likely to be amplified by the expected speed of change in communities. Increased competition for jobs, particularly in a post-Covid economy, additional pressure on housing, not to mention increased stress on social forces, will not help, and those who are unable to articulate the benefits of skills they gained from an Armed Forces career may fall under the radar.

Many we spoke to agreed that without proactive intervention, “there is a risk that the Armed Forces may be a minority class within society; one that operates in increasingly different ways from the mainstream. As the Armed Forces become proportionally smaller, there is always the risk that they could become a ‘caste apart’ – they could get even further out of step.” But not everyone suffers – “those with tech skills get employed”.

Given the expected pressures on the UK economy as a whole, most agreed that affordability will be a key issue, and as such, there is a need to identify those most vulnerable. “Those that have the most difficulty in transitioning are those that are the least well equipped to find other jobs – such as Early Service Leavers, those who spend less than four years in Service. If we are short of resources, the focus should be on the people that will struggle the most.” We heard that currently “there is a small but significant group who have an abrupt end to their Service career. We remove their life support immediately, then throw them on the heap. We say we are good [at looking after leavers], but we fail to look more broadly at some people who need more help… the ones we have most problems with are the ones who are not exposed to a transition process”. Better data and segmentation around vulnerable groups such as these would be helpful. “For the most needy, it’s not more support that is required, it’s the offer of any help at all”. The Joint Service Publication document, JSP 100, recognises this and now requires every individual to be assessed, including those who are summarily discharged. It gives clear instruction on how to deal with their transition. It is up to others in the Armed Forces Community to ensure they follow through.

Example Implication: At a time of economic uncertainty, timely interventions and long-term support of those in transition can protect the most vulnerable from being dislocated from mainstream social thought. Failure to do this may put the wider population at risk.

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