We've been trying to unravel the truth about army pay.
General Sir Richard Dannatt, the head of the Army, reckons our frontline troops are paid less than a traffic warden, which if true is an absolute scandal.
But according to the cash-strapped MOD, it isn't true. According to their version, an 18 year old private in Afghanistan gets a fairly healthy sounding £26 grand package, comprising:
- Salary: £16,227
- Operational Allowance: (182 days) £2,380.56 (during six month tour of Afghanistan)
- Longer Separation Allowance: (182 days) £1,132.04
- Other perks including dental care and free eye tests: £510
- Financial assistance for learning costs: £2,175
- Subsidised living accommodation: £425.83
- Estimated annual employers' pension contribution: £3,148.04
- Total: £25,998.47
Which is more than a traffic warden, widely reported today to be on £17,000 pa. So the General is way offbeam.
But, just a cotton pickin' minute, thar...
For one thing, the average pay of traffic wardens is higher than £17 grand. According to the ONS, in April 2007 it was running at £20,526 pa - call it £21 grand today.
Second, let's just take a closer look at that soldier's package.
Like, what exactly is that £2175 "financial assistance for learning costs"? Whatever it is, it ain't what normally passes for pay.
And what about those "other perks including dental care and free eye tests", supposedly worth £510 pa? Do you know what they are? According to the Armed Forces Pay Review Body, which sets Army pay, they comprise "fast track access to routine NHS surgery, recourse to private health care where necessary, and the establishment of Regional Rehabilitation Units and the Complex Rehabilitation and Amputee Unit at Headley Court".
Well, that's a real perk: if you get your legs blown off, we'll send you to our amputee unit. Traffic wardens certainly don't get mollycoddled like that.
And that £3148.04p pa the soldier is deemed to get for employers pension contributions... if our traffic warden has the good fortune to be employed by the police or a local authority, then guess what - he/she will have a nice fat employer guaranteed final salary pension as well. And although they will make some contribution themselves, it will be far less than the average 25% of salary the perk is worth.
And that subsidised army accommodation (£425.83p)? Is that by any chance connected with those rat infested Army flats we hear so much about?
Summary? Knock off the learning costs, the amputation perks, the rathole subsidy, and a big chunk of that pension contribution, and you're left with annual pay of around £20K, which is less than the traffic warden's £21K. Plus, the warden doesn't have to live in a godforsaken dirtbowl getting shot at (unless it's Liverpool 8, maybe).
And behind all this is A Big and Highly Inconvenient Truth - we know for certain that Army pay is too low because there is a major and continuing recruitment crisis. Here's the Armed Forces Review Body's own chart of requirement against strength for the forces overall:
PS The Armed Forces Review Body assembles a mass of doubtless fascinating data to support its annual recommendations on forces pay. Unfortunately, it's rather selective in what gets published, so we can't see the average pay of different ranks plotted against their civilian comparators. It blithely asserts that pay for lower ranks is comfortably between median and upper quartile. Me, I'd be much more convinced if I could see the actual data.