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Research highlights worrying decline in understanding of the Armed Forces

Research highlights worrying decline in understanding of the Armed Forces


21 May, 2019

Survey finds 69% of people in the UK have little idea what the military actually do. Finding comes despite 80% agreeing that serving personnel make a valuable contribution to society.

The Royal British Legion says it is concerned that new figures that show the public has little understanding of the military could lead to a decline in support for serving and ex-serving personnel. 

The study, carried out by YouGov for the UK’s largest Armed Forces charity,found the following:

  • 69% of people say they know little or very little about what the Armed Forces do on a day-to-day basis
  • 44% thought serving members of the Armed Forces have been involved in military-style fitness boot camps for the public in the past 10 years (these are run by private companies) 
  • 16% believed they spent time working as film extras in the past 10 years (which they do not)
  • only one-third (33%) know about the support of the British Armed Forces to the NHS in the past 10 years 
  • only one-quarter (25%) knew that the military have provided support in wildlife protection in the past 10 years
  • awareness of what the British Armed Forces do on a day-to-day basis is lowest among the under 35s (76% know little or very little)
  • 80% of people agreed that serving members of the British Armed Forces make a valuable contribution to society in the UK.

A similar poll carried out by Lord Ashcroft1 in 2012 found that 62% of UK adults had little or very little understanding of what the Armed Forces do on a day-to-day basis, a figure that has increased to 69% of UK adults in this latest YouGov research. 

Alexander Owen, head of Armed Forces engagement at The Royal British Legion, comments: ‘While it’s fantastic that people think our Armed Forces make a valuable contribution to society, the lack of understanding of what they actually do is concerning. If this figure continues to decline, I worry that support for those who serve will diminish too. Not only do they protect our values, freedoms and way of life, but they also work tirelessly supporting the NHS, respond to natural disasters and civilian emergencies at home and abroad, and are currently helping protect endangered species for future generations. They support us every day. The least we can do is support them in turn.’

In response to these findings the Legion is raising awareness of the contribution that the Armed Forces make to everyday life; Serving personnel are mobilised during natural disasters, terrorist attacks, humanitarian and environmental crises, and as a peacekeeping force around the world. 

  • More than 2,700 serving regular and reserve medical personnel are currently working in the NHS.2
  • 236 civilians have been rescued by the RAF Mountain Rescue Service in the UK in the last three years.3
  • A new counter-poaching task force has trained more than 120 rangers to protect endangered wildlife in Malawi.4
  • 4,100 defence personnel were deployed to tackle flooding across southern England in 2014.5

The Legion hopes these new figures will help highlight the knowledge gap around our Armed Forces, and increase understanding and support for those who protect and serve our country.

The full survey results can be accessed at

To find out more about the work of The Royal British Legion, please visit



2 Source: Ministry of Defence

3 Source: RAF Mountain Rescue Service

4 Source: Ministry of Defence

5 Source: Ministry of Defence

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