Examining the financial stability of UK military families

Young woman holding a bill in one hand and her head in another in front of a computer, photo by Damir Khabirov/Adobe Stock

Photo by Damir Khabirov/Adobe Stock

Military Service uniquely shapes families’ financial stability in positive and negative ways.

What is the issue?

The particular demands and nature of life in the Armed Forces, such as high levels of mobility, may contribute to financial difficulties or reduced financial stability for some personnel and their partners. These issues may materialise both while a person is in Service and upon transition into civilian life and impact the quality of life and the mental wellbeing of personnel and their partners and reduce the likelihood of a successful transition to civilian life. However, there is a lack of research, particularly in the UK, on the potential extent of financial instability among current and former Service personnel and their partners, as well as how the unique characteristics of Service life shape the financial stability of the Armed Forces community. There is also a lack of robust evidence on what support exists in relation to the financial wellbeing of the community, and what the strengths or limitations of existing support are.

How did we help?

RAND Europe conducted a study in collaboration with the Army Families Federation (AFF) with the objectives to:

  • Improve understanding of the financial stability of military families and the extent to which characteristics of Service life can positively or negatively contribute to it.
  • Explore existing interventions and propose recommendations to improve policy and support provision.

We conducted a bespoke survey with serving and ex-serving personnel and their partners as well as desk research, qualitative interviews and a workshop with stakeholders from the charity sector, the Armed Forces, the Ministry of Defence (MOD) and wider government, and other support organisations working with the Armed Forces Community.

What did we find?

  • The study found mixed results on how members of the Armed Forces Community perceive their financial stability. Study participants were generally positive about the stability of their household incomes but less positive about the stability and adequacy of their financial resources and ability to recover from financial shocks.
  • Military Service uniquely shapes families’ financial stability in positive and negative ways. Factors that are seen as positively shaping financial stability are access to subsidised housing, the value of the Armed Forces pension, access to operational and non-operational allowances, value of basic pay, and healthcare provision for Service personnel. Factors that are seen as having a negative impact are reduced partner employment opportunities, limited childcare accessibility and affordability, costs associated with circumstances of Service life (e.g. relocation and separation), challenges for long-term financial planning, and loopholes or gaps in Service-linked allowance schemes.
  • The study indicated a disconnect between stakeholders’ perceptions of the Offer and Service personnel and their partner's lived experience of it. While stakeholders interviewed in the study frequently commented on the Offer’s comprehensiveness compared to civilian compensation, Armed Forces personnel and partners oftentimes perceived its value as eroding.
  • Significant finance-related support exists in the UK to help mitigate financial risk for military families, in the form of mechanisms that focus on financial behaviours, direct financial support, as well as indirect (e.g. housing and employment) support. However, there are various opportunities for strengthening the support landscape.

What can be done?

The study provided 14 recommendations for the Ministry of Defence, the Armed Forces, the charity sector and other support organisations with a view on:

  • Strengthening the overarching approach to enabling and sustaining the financial stability of military families, e.g. through fostering the inclusion of military partners in all aspects of policy and support relating to financial stability of Service personnel.
  • Building a comprehensive offer of financial literacy education for Serving personnel and their partners as part of the holistic transition policy.
  • Improving information provision, including information about available support mechanisms, to aid military families‘ financial management.
  • Addressing barriers to accessing support and help-seeking, e.g. through ensuring consistency of information-sharing and support pathways across Defence.