Bullying complaints in Ministry of Defence soar over four years

MoD received 93 complaints of bullying in 2023, new figures reveal
Photo: Greg Balfour Evans/Alamy Stock Photo

By Tom Scotson

25 Jan 2024

Bullying complaints made by civilian workers in the Ministry of Defence have surged over four years, according to new data released by ministers.

Complaints received by the MoD rose from 20 in 2019 to 53 in 2020, 76 in 2021 and 78 in 2022, before dropping to 56 in 2023. The number of bullying complaints which were resolved was 21 in 2019, 28 in 2020 and 18 in 2021. This figure rose to 72 in 2022 and soared to 93 in 2023.

The figures were published by parliament after Maria Eagle, Labour MP for Garston and Halewood, tabled a series of written questions to the MoD. The data from the last five calendar years was given out on 19 January by defence people minister Andrew Murrison.

Eagle, who is a Labour shadow defence minister, told CSW's sister title PoliticsHome the figures were “shameful” and showed a “deeply concerning upward trend” in bullying. She claimed it was the “latest example of the Tories’ fourteen years of failure in defence”.

“Ministers must lead from the top to root out unacceptable behaviour in the MoD and the Armed Forces,” Eagle said. “Labour in government will also legislate to establish an Armed Forces commissioner to act as a strong independent voice to improve the lives of serving personnel and their families.”

Harassment complaints made by civilian workers and received by the MoD rose from 11 to 15 between 2019 and 2020. The number of harassment complaints which were resolved rose from 26 in 2019 to 33 in 2020 and then 67 in 2021. This number fell to three in 2022 and six in 2023.

Discrimination cases in the MoD were not an "explicitly defined category" prior to 2022. However, in 2022 the MoD received 23 discrimination complaints and six more in 2023. It resolved 19 cases in 2022 and 15 cases the following year.

An MoD spokesperson said it did not tolerate “abuse, bullying or discrimination of any kind”. They said the department had introduced changes “to improve the experience” for everyone in the MoD, such as enhancing "reporting mechanisms, diversity and inclusion training, and increased access to support”.

“We actively encourage any personnel who believe they have experienced or witnessed unacceptable behaviour to report it,” they said. “All allegations of unacceptable behaviour are taken extremely seriously and are thoroughly investigated, with swift action being taken where necessary.”

PoliticsHome reported in December that bullying, harassment and discrimination compensation payments issued by the MoD have doubled over the past four years.

In 2019-2020 and 2020-2021, fewer than five settlements were given out by the department within each financial year. This figure increased to six in 2021-22 and rose to 12 between 2022-23.

Average compensation claims cost the taxpayer £145,704 between 2019-2020 and £100,527 from 2020-21. However, this figure increased to £228,669 from 2021-2022 and then rose again to £235,564 between 2022-23. Payments to victims increased by more than 60 per cent over the last four years.

The damages paid represented a “full and final settlement” issued when bullying, harassment and discrimination were the “main causes of action”.

Tom Scotson is a reporter for CSW's sister title PoliticsHome, where this story first appeared


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