The British army appears to be targeting its recruitment activities at young people from the poorest backgrounds, according to claims made in academic research published this week.
The report, produced by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, part of the University of London, looked at army visits to schools in London and found that those with the most disadvantaged students are far more likely to have hosted military recruiters.
Forty per cent of Greater London secondary schools received army visits between September 2008 and April 2009. However, 51 per cent of the most disadvantaged fifth were visited, compared to only 29 per cent of the middle fifth.
The news has sparked fresh concerns about young people from poor backgrounds joining the armed forces due to severely limited employment opportunities.
“Letting army recruiters into schools may jeopardise young people’s rights and welfare, particularly as these visits are concentrated in the poorest schools” said the report’s co-author, David Gee.
However, the Ministry of Defence insists that the army visits schools only when invited to do so. The report acknowledges that the school’s consent is required, but claims that “in practice it is more usual for the army to initiate the relationship”.
The armed forces are already facing criticism for taking advantage of the recession to recruit people facing economic hardship. Army recruiters in London reported a 20-25 per cent increase in enquiries in January 2009 when compared to the same period in the previous year.
In addition, Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights last year criticised the UK government for continuing to allow the recruitment of 16- and 17-year-olds into the armed forces. The UK is the only European Union country to employ soldiers aged under 18, a practice opposed by the United Nations.
The report’s authors are urging school staff to consider the consequences of military recruitment in schools.
Speaking to the Quaker magazine The Friend, Gee said that “It’s important that teachers think about whether they want to allow military recruiters into schools, given that these are slick advertising campaigns that present a misleading picture of life in the armed forces”.