Austerity and the Military Covenant

This post was written by Guest Post on May 20, 2011
Posted Under: Economy

This is a guest post by Samuel Wilson.

As you may have heard, the government is planning to bring a ‘Military Covenant’ into law. This would give soldiers and their families particular rights and privileges – including (quoting from the Guardian, 16th May) ‘priority NHS treatment for forces personnel and their families; council tax rebates for all personnel serving abroad; guaranteed places at schools of choice for forces children; a promise to pay forces’ widows a pension for life; giving service families priority in allocating council houses’. The argument put forward by proponents of this idea is that it recognises brave soldiers ready to make the ‘ultimate sacrifice’.

Now, all the main political parties seem happy with the alleged principles behind this new law. But, consider the economic situation in which this law is being brought in. When the government is slashing funding to all sectors of public services they are pushing for greater access for the armed forces. My problem with this isn’t that “we just don’t have the money to spend on these brave soldiers in this difficult economic time”. Instead my scepticism arises from two economic policies coming together: 1.) a decrease in access to public services for the public at large, and 2.) an increase in access to these services for those in the military.

It seems quite simple really: if you take away provisions from the hardest hit in society – take away access to health care, education, housing, and employment opportunities – whilst making these more accessible to those who sign up to fight, then, given the harshness of the economic climate for the least well off, more will be forced to (‘choose’ to) sign up. Of course, this conscription of the poor – in order to have access to chances that the better well-off have through their relatively greater spending power – is couched in the language of patriotism; no-one dare suggest that the government’s motives are anything more than honourable, and that class or economics may play at least some role.

I don’t want to suggest that this covenant is being put into place for purely clandestine reasons. However, the fact remains that it will have social impacts beyond merely “helping heros”. For this reason, it is something which should not be debated simply in terms of nationalism or how members of the military are ‘valued’ (what soldiers do for the state and what the state does for them in return) – something must also be said of the economic context under which this change in the law unfolds.

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Reader Comments


It’s not really conscription, though, is it? In that what is wrong about conscription isn’t that more people become soldiers, but that people are forced to become soldiers when they might rather be doing something else with those years (including having a worse job, or none at all).

Soldiering is not that bad a career – the training is free, you can start with minimal qualifications, there is clear opportunity for career progression and you will leave with a lot of skills valued in the labour market which are of their nature very hard to prove you have (such as discipline, the ability to work as part of a team and make decisions under stress).

Lots of policies have bad unintended consequences, but some also have good unintended consequences. This sounds like one of the latter situations.

Written By Hugh on May 20th, 2011 @ 10:36 pm

The military has long been the real welfare state in the US and as such ‘conscription via poverty’ has been the name of the game especially since the draft went after the Vietnam War, and certainly before that too – my dad went in specifically to get his education paid for, and stayed for the pension. Where else could you get all your medical covered (in govt-run hospitals), a free education, an inflation-proof income-based pension after 20 years and even housing on base, with your own cheap grocery store? The great unsung US socialist utopia. Much cut and abused over the last 20 years though. (See Stan Goff on this in ‘Full Spectrum Disorder’.)

What’s interesting is that Bush/Obama have done everything to avoid a fair draft during the latest round of wars, nervous as they have been of stirring up opposition to those wars amongst middle-class people who might otherwise have had other choices.

The other way to look at the covenant here is that it is only being made a legal duty now that the military itself is cutting back on personnel…

Written By cityeyrie on May 22nd, 2011 @ 8:43 pm
Zeppelin Boy

@Hugh – Training for vital skills shouldn’t be granted on the basis of depositing your own life as collateral. Some manner of training centre or college can do the same thing far more cost-effectively, i.e. without having to pay for associated weaponry/vehicles/mind-numbing logistical costs. Do you think the vast majority of those swimming in others’ capital in ‘leadership’ roles have been on a tour of duty in Afghanistan?

Laying out the rights to healthcare etc should not have to be codified specifically for the armed forces. They should be available for everyone anyway.

Written By Zeppelin Boy on May 24th, 2011 @ 11:04 am
neil pressley

after reading the posts on this sit i fully understand the scepticism of those people that the military covenant is a conscription by alternative means but i assure you that this covenant is being set in place to assist those people who otherwise would get no assistance whatsoever under normal cicumstances,
imagine fighting in a foreign country (in the name of britain) seeing many freinds and colleagues die in the most horrific ways. returning to your country and being told there is no help for the mental issues that you have sustained when you approach the council in the area that you which to reside and being told by a foreign national that you have no rights or needs and to go back to where you are from to be told you cant get your children into school because you havent lived in the area long enough now consider all those scenarios all put on one family and that is what many of our nations soldiers are facing on a daily basis. yes i understand that a lot of people are going through hardships but when priority is given to ex cons drug abusers and alcoholics then i think that priorities are mixed up. instead of the priority given to those who through choice help defend the rights of everyone in this country and then having basic needs dicarded for those that do everything to disregard and abuse societies help then something is amiss.

Written By neil pressley on June 15th, 2011 @ 3:10 pm

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