The Armed Forces should be targeting ‘Middle England’ to solve serious staff shortages, MPs heard last week.
Oxford University professor Hew Strachan, who specialises in war history, told the Commons Defence Committee that the Ministry of Defence’s policy of looking for recruits mainly from the working class was outdated.
“This is at the heart of the problem for the Armed Forces,” he said. “When 80% of the workforce were in manual jobs, you could target the sort of recruits that the Armed Forces still targets and expects to recruit from today.
“There has to be a situation where Middle England sees it as reasonable to go into Armed Forces as any other walk of life. That’s not the position at the moment.”
The latest MoD figures show it is operating at just 96.9% of its stated full-time trained strength requirement.
The Commons Defence Committee warned earlier this year that military performance was deteriorating following five years of fighting insurgents in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Armed Forces staffing decisions designed to win those wars could reduce the UK’s chances of defending itself from fresh attack in the future, Strachan said.
“We have reached the point where there has to be a choice because to retain full capability may be impossible. If we structure the Armed Forces to do a particular thing in Afghanistan then we are not retaining all-round capability for a major war in the future,” he said.
An MoD spokesman said that the Armed Forces faced constantly changing threats, and it continued to keep capability and training levels under review.
“All three Services offer a wide range of challenging careers to men and women, and the latest statistics show that there has been an increase in the number of recruits who joined the Armed Forces compared with the previous year,” he said.