Harmonised standard for previous UK armed forces service

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Policy details

Metadata item Details
Publication date:16 March 2022
Author:Ministry of Defence, and the Office for Veterans' Affairs
Who this is for:Users and producers of statistics
Type:Harmonisation standards and guidance
Contact:

GSSHelp@statistics.gov.uk

What is harmonisation?

Harmonisation is the process of making statistics and data more comparable, consistent, and coherent. Harmonised standards set out how to collect and report statistics to make sure they can be compared effectively across different data collections in the Government Statistical Service (GSS). Harmonisation produces more useful statistics that give users a greater level of understanding about a topic.

What do we mean by previous UK armed forces service?

When we talk about previous UK armed forces service we mean any person who has served in the regular or reserve UK armed forces. Members of this population are sometimes called veterans. This includes all former service personnel who have served for one day or more, including those who were not involved in active service.

It does not include any personnel currently serving in the UK armed forces as either a regular or a reserve.

This guidance is about the question you should ask to allow former service personnel to give information about their previous service. The question will help personnel give their answers in a consistent and appropriate way. It concentrates on those who have previously served in the UK armed forces rather than those who are eligible for former service personnel support services. This is because the broad range of eligibility criteria for specific support services means that it is not possible to produce a single comparable question.

Questions and response options

The harmonised question on this topic is designed to collect basic information that can be used in most surveys. This question can also be used to indicate past service personnel in administrative data sets where appropriate.

It is not designed to replace questions used in specialist surveys where more detailed analysis will be needed. It is also not designed to work out the eligibility for former service personnel support services, as it is likely that different criteria would be needed for this.

If this question is being used to benefit an individual or to link with other data sets, consult a local data protection expert. They will be able to ensure that the information collected is being used in line with the relevant legislation.

Introducing the question

This suggested introduction can be used to explain why you’re asking for this information. It can also help respondents decide how to answer the question if they are unsure.

“We ask this question to make sure we are collecting consistent data that can be used to support people who previously served in the UK armed forces. Members of this population are sometimes called veterans.

“This information will be used to help deliver the Strategy for our Veterans and will help organisations plan policy and services for veterans. It will also support the commitments made under the Armed Forces Covenant. This is a promise by the nation making sure that those who serve or who have served in the armed forces, and their families, are not disadvantaged.

“When we talk about previous armed forces service, we mean any person who has served for one day or more in the UK armed forces as a regular or a reserve including anyone who served under National Service. There is no obligation to give this information.”

The introduction can be adapted to suit specific needs but it should ensure participants:

  • know how the information will be used
  • know the definition of previous UK armed forces service
  • are reassured that this information will be used to help support veterans
  • know that they can choose not to give this information

The question and response options

The question is: ‘Have you previously served in the UK armed forces?’.

The response options are:

  1. ‘Yes, previously served in regular armed forces’
  2. ‘Yes, previously served in reserve armed forces’
  3. ‘No’

Current serving regular or reserve members should only select ‘No’.

Answering the question

If you are a current serving member of the regular or reserve UK armed forces, please select ‘No’.

Select ‘Yes’ if you have previously served in one or more of the following:

  • regular armed forces
  • reserve armed forces
  • National Service

Additional guidance

This additional information can be used to help the respondent work out an appropriate response.

The information can be made available to participants in an online survey. It can either be displayed with the question, or as an additional reference page. An interviewer can also refer to it if a respondent needs help answering.

For administrative datasets, this information can be incorporated into an administrative systems data dictionary.

Personnel currently serving in the regular or reserve armed forces

Select ‘No’ if you are currently serving in the regular or reserve armed forces, even if you have previously served as either a regular or reserve, or are accessing support services for former service personnel.

National Service

Select ‘Yes, previously served in regular armed forces’ if you completed a period of compulsory service in the UK armed forces between 1939 and 1963.

Regular

Select ‘Yes, previously served in regular armed forces’ if you have served in any of the following:

  • Royal Navy Regular
  • Royal Marines Regular
  • British Army Regular
  • Royal Air Force Regular
  • National Service
  • Gurkhas
  • Ulster Defence Regiment
  • Royal Irish Regiment

Reserve

Select ‘Yes, previously served in regular armed forces’ if you have served in any of the following:

  • Full Time Reserve Service
  • Part Time Reserve Service
  • Royal Naval Reserve
  • Women’s Royal Naval Service
  • Royal Marines Reserve
  • Royal Fleet Reserve
  • Royal Fleet Auxiliary
  • Royal Navy Sponsored Reserve
  • Army Reserve
  • Territorial Army
  • Auxiliary Territorial Service
  • Army Sponsored Reserve
  • Ulster Defence Regiment
  • Royal Irish Rangers
  • Royal Irish Regiment
  • Royal Air Force Reserve
  • Royal Air Force Sponsored Reserve
  • RAF Reserve of Officers
  • RAF Reserve of Ranks
  • Royal Auxiliary Air Force
  • Women’s Auxiliary Air Force
  • Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve
  • Royal Air Force Sponsored Reserve
  • Called-out Reservists
  • Home Guard

You should also select this option if you served as a merchant mariner and qualified for a Merchant Navy Medal. See more information about the operations qualifying for a Merchant Navy Medal. This list is not exhaustive.

For all other services, including foreign armed forces, select ‘No’.

Select ‘No’ if you have only served in any of the following:

  • Royal Air Force Training Corps
  • Royal Air Force Air Experience Flight
  • Royal Air Force Volunteer Gliding Schools
  • Defence Technical Undergraduate Scheme
  • Combined Cadet Force
  • Army Cadet Force
  • Cadet Force Adult Volunteers
  • Sea Cadet Instructors or Students
  • University Royal Naval Units
  • University Air Squadrons
  • Air Cadets
  • Ministry of Defence Civilians or Other Civilians

Guidance for data collection

Ask this question to respondents aged 16 and over.

This standard gives additional information on different categories of service to help ensure consistency in data collection. A shortened version of these data categories can be used to help with effective application of this standard, but please note that this could limit the comparability of the standard.

Other questions can be used along with this standard to provide additional information for an organisation’s specific purposes. Please note that data collected from these additional questions will likely not be comparable to other outputs.  The purpose of any other question should also be explained to participants so they understand how that information may be used.

A ‘Prefer Not to Say’ option can be added if needed. This gives people the opportunity not to give this information about themselves. Please note that this may make any outputs less comparable to the census and other outputs.

Alternatively, respondents can be given the option of skipping the question. This gives them the same chance to decide not to answer this question.

Types of data collection this principle is suitable for

This question allows past service personnel to declare themselves in both survey and administrative data sets. This standard can be used in both paper and online collection modes.  It can also be used for interviewer led surveys if appropriate.

Slight changes to the wording or structure of the question can be used to account for differences in data collection. Please note that major changes would likely limit the comparability of this standard to census and other outputs.

Using this question in the Welsh language

A Welsh language translation of the previous UK armed forces service question was produced for Census 2021 in England and Wales. Any changes made to the final census question were tested to make sure they followed Cymraeg Clir guidelines. The changes were also quality assured by Welsh language experts from the Welsh Language Commissioner and Welsh Government.

If you would like to use a Welsh language version of a harmonised standard that has not been translated, please contact us at GSSHelp@statistics.gov.uk.

Examples of when this standard has been used

This harmonised standard is based on the previous UK armed forces service question for Census 2021 in England and Wales. This question was included in Census 2021 to provide more information about the population of former service personnel. The development of this question has been informed by research and testing.

The same question has been included in Scotland’s 2022 census, but with a slight change in the order of the response options.

The Scottish Government has also identified an opportunity for more regular data collection about veterans. They have added the harmonised question to their three major household surveys:

  • Scottish Household Survey (SHS)
  • Scottish Health Survey (SHeS)
  • Scottish Crime and Justice Survey (SCJS)

This is the same question that has been used in Scotland’s Census 2022, where the response options are in a different order to the harmonised question. This question has been included in the SCJS from 2021, and in the SHS and SHeS from 2022. The first analysis of the data will be available from 2023. This will improve the understanding of the profile, circumstances, and needs of veterans in Scotland. The information can then be used to help develop policy and services.

Comparability

This harmonised standard is based on the previous UK armed forces service question for Census 2021 in England and Wales, so the data collected will be broadly comparable.

More generally, outputs that use this standard are comparable with other surveys or administrative data sets that also use it. We would not recommend comparing information about previous UK armed forces service from outputs using this standard with other outputs that use a different measure.

Development of this standard

This question was designed by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the Ministry of Defence (MOD) to help recognise past service personnel in Census 2021 in England and Wales.

The ONS and MOD consulted a range of stakeholders to make sure this question allows people to give information about their previous service. They also asked stakeholders to make sure the question meets the needs of public bodies who want to gather this information.

The stakeholder group included members of:

  • local authorities
  • clinical care groups
  • charities

See the development of the Census 2021 armed forces question for more information.

Before this harmonisation standard was published, the ONS and MOD asked other government departments, local authorities, and charities to check it was appropriate and met the needs of various stakeholders. Further guidance was added throughout this standard following these conversations. This additional guidance helps to ensure the question can be used effectively by a range of stakeholder groups.

Further information

For further information on the commitments made in the Armed Forces Covenant, see the Armed Forces Covenant website.

For information about ongoing work across government to support former service personnel, see the Office for Veterans Affairs website.

Contact us

We are always interested in hearing from users. It helps us develop our work further. If you use or produce statistics based on this topic, please contact us at GSSHelp@statistics.gov.uk.

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