Britain’s Army, Navy and Air Force will have to hire 30 per cent more recruits from an ethnic minority background by the end of the decade under plans to improve diversity in the armed forces.
The Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, has told service chiefs that by 2020 at least 10 per cent of all new joiners will have to come from a non-white background.
He also wants to see the armed forces introduce schemes to improve minority representation at the most senior ranks. Currently, ethnic minorities make up just 7 per cent of the armed forces compared to 12 per cent of the British workforce overall. At officer level, black and ethnic minorities make up just 2.4 per cent of the total workforce. Even these figures are boosted by ethnic minority recruits from Commonwealth countries.
In a speech Mr Fallon said this was not good enough and that he wanted to see a marked improvement by the end of the decade. He denied imposing such a target was “tokenism”.
“We need armed forces benefiting from all the talent of the people they protect,” he said. “Although 12 per cent of Britain’s workforce are members of an ethnic minority they only make up 7 per cent of our armed forces. That’s not good enough.”
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“I want at least 10 per cent of our new recruits to come from a black, Asian and minority ethnic background. This isn’t about tokenism it is about attracting the brightest and best.”
Mr Fallon said the problem was particularly acute at higher ranks and that more needed to be done to ensure that ethnic minorities were supported to get promotion.
“There should never be limits to how far you can climb,” he said. “Yet minority communities are a very noticeable minority in our senior ranks. I’m determined to turn that around. I look forward to the day when British Asians become generals, admirals or air marshals.”
Ministry of Defence sources said a priority was to encourage more British Muslims to join the army and to remove perceptions that joining would lead to isolation from communities and was not an “aspirational career”.
Currently there are only 480 Muslims serving in the Army, which represent 0.54 per cent of the total regular force of 88,500 according to the latest figures. Ministers hope if they can improve this situation the new recruits will act as role models in communities and counter extremist narratives that the Army is fighting a “war” against Islam.
Fiyaz Mughal, the founder and director of the community cohesion group Faith Matters, welcomed the initiative but said there would be “substantive barriers” to its success.