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History made as Armed Forces question included in 2021 census

History made as Armed Forces question included in 2021 census


22 Jul, 2020

For the first time in the history of the census, there will be a question on service in the Armed Forces, following a campaign led by The Royal British Legion and Poppyscotland …

The government has announced that the 2021 census will now include a question to provide information on whether someone has served in HM Armed Forces, as a result of the Legion and Poppyscotland’s ‘Count Them In’ campaign.


The Royal British Legion, which led the campaign, is at the heart of a national network offering a range of support and services to the Armed Forces community. The decision to include the question on the 2021 census will provide the Legion, as well as public bodies, local authorities and other military charities with valuable information to ensure they can best meet the needs of serving personnel, veterans and their families. 

Says Charles Byrne, director general of The Royal British Legion, ‘This is an extremely proud moment for the Legion. After leading a successful campaign, the fact that a military question will be in the 2021 census will significantly improve our understanding of the Armed Forces community, which up until now has been very limited. It will ensure that we, along with other charities and service providers, can deliver the best service possible to them when and where it is needed most. 

‘This is something we have been striving towards for many years. It will have a huge impact on Service personnel, veterans and their families well into the future, as the outcome will allow us to provide more effective care and support to those who are in need. We are delighted and extremely grateful to everyone who has supported the campaign and helped us to achieve this historic success.’

Minister for Defence People and Veterans Johnny Mercer adds: ‘Understanding better the profile and needs of veterans is a key part of ensuring that public services are tailored for our ex-Service personnel. So allowing, for the first time, veterans to identify themselves in the census is a vital part of making Britain the best place in the world to be a veteran.’ 

It has been estimated that there are 2.4 million veterans currently living in Great Britain,* who make up part of a wider ex-Service community that includes their spouses, partners, dependent children and widow(er)s. However, little is currently known about the exact numbers, location and needs of this significant group. 
The ‘Count Them In’ campaign was launched in 2016 by The Royal British Legion, and gained support from MPs, local authorities and members of the public via the Legion’s website. As part of the launch, veteran Darren Fuller, 44, was painted into his surroundings at the Houses of Parliament in London (pictured), demonstrating that the Armed Forces community was invisible on the UK census. 

Darren served for 20 years in the Army, in 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment, during which time he completed tours to Northern Ireland, Macedonia, Iraq and Afghanistan. He was injured in Afghanistan in April 2008, losing his lower right arm, and was medically discharged in 2014. After receiving great support from The Royal British Legion, he worked for the organisation as the community fundraiser for Essex.

‘I am proud to have served my country,’ says Darren, ‘so being part of the Count Them In Campaign was really important to me. My injury, as a result of my service, meant that I needed help from a range of organisations and charities, including the Legion. The change to the 2021 census will make it easier for others like me to access the support they need. The success of the Legion’s campaign will help generations of veterans like myself for years to come.’

Count Them In is part of the ongoing campaign work the Legion undertakes to help champion the interests, welfare, and contributions of the Armed Forces community. To find out more, click here

About The Royal British Legion

The Royal British Legion is the nation’s biggest Armed Forces charity, providing care and support to all members of the British Armed Forces, past and present, and their families. The Legion champions Remembrance and safeguards the Military Covenant between the nation and its Armed Forces. It is well known for the annual Poppy Appeal and its emblem the red poppy.

#CountThemIn timeline

  • 2016: The #CountThemIn campaign was launched by The Royal British Legion on 16 May 2016 with a series of photographs featuring four veterans painted into their surroundings, to highlight that, in the then current census system, they were invisible among the general population. The images showed the veterans hidden at the Houses of Parliament in London, a library in Manchester, a café in Plymouth and a rugby ground in Cardiff. 
  • 2017: The ONS (Office for National Statistics) pledged support to #CountThemIn campaign.
  • September 2018: National Records of Scotland (NRS) recommended that the Scottish government include an Armed Forces question in the Scottish census.
  • December 2018: The Cabinet Office confirmed the government’s intention to recommend to Parliament the inclusion of a question on the Armed Forces community in the next census in England and Wales.
  • July 2020: The order passed in Parliament relates to England and Wales only and this question will form part of the census when it is conducted next spring. In Scotland, the Scottish Parliament has approved the order in council, which commits to a veterans question being included in the 2021 census. The Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) has decided not to recommend the inclusion of an Armed Forces question in the 2021 census for Northern Ireland. The Legion understands that NISRA intends to use alternative data sources to improve understanding of the Armed Forces community in Northern Ireland.

* Annual population survey: UK Armed Forces veterans residing in Great Britain 2017

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