A soldier's worth in the UK

Date: 08 Jun 2008


A soldier's worth
Daily Telegraph, London: 06/06/2008

Back in the days when our soldiers wore red coats, their daily pay was one shilling. An infantryman in the ranks has never been lavishly rewarded, but many young squaddies today must look at their wage slips and question whether their take-home pay has actually risen, in real terms, over the centuries.

Gen Sir Richard Dannatt, Chief of the General Staff (CGS), took the highly unusual step yesterday of publicly bemoaning his soldiers' lot: not only their pay, but conditions, kit, 'appalling' accommodation and general treatment. He compared the starting pay for a 17-year-old private - 12,572 - to the basic 18,000 salary that can be earned by a traffic warden who faces nothing more dangerous than an angry motorist.

Sir Richard is commendably solicitous of his men and women. However, there are deeper issues at play here. Once, the CGS made his complaints in private; Sir Richard's decision to make his grievances known through the columns of a tabloid newspaper suggests he does not think anyone in Whitehall, including the Secretary of State for Defence, is listening to entreaties made behind closed doors.

The cost of deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan is placing immense strain on a defence budget that has remained roughly static in real terms since Labour took office. Too much money is frittered away on extravagantly bungled procurements, such as the 500 million wasted on eight unflyable Chinooks.

Gen Dannatt is right to ask whether we are prepared properly to fund, train and equip our Armed Forces. There are plenty of savings to be made in an overall government budget of 650 billion that might boost defence spending, but this would require political will and clearly articulated public spending priorities.