MoD culture under fresh criticism as minister reveals extent of bullying allegations

There are 99 open cases of alleged bullying, harassment, discrimination and victimisation in the department, minister reveals
Ministry of Defence. Photo: Adobe Stock

By Tevye Markson

14 Mar 2024

The defence secretary has been urged to “root out” unacceptable behaviour in the Ministry of Defence after it emerged that 99 allegations of bullying, harassment, discrimination and victimisation are currently live across the department.

It comes after 60 female senior civil servants wrote to the MoD permanent secretary last year alleging there is a "toxic" culture at the department for women. The letter included testimonies from officials who made allegations of sexual assault, harassment and abuse. Another MoD official has since spoken out anonymously about being sexually assaulted by colleagues. 

Defence minister Andrew Murrison revealed the statistics in a letter to Maria Eagle, Labour’s shadow defence procurement minister, published in the House of Commons library.

Murrison said in the letter that “a manual review of all current open cases recorded on the Defence Business Services case management system shows 99 individual complaints where DBS case workers are providing continued support through the life of the complaint”.

The minister also provided a table that shows 81 of the bullying, harassment, discrimination or victimisation allegations were made in 2023, while 11 came from the first month of 2024 alone. A further six were from 2022, and one was from 2021.

Eagle told the Guardian – which first reported on the letter on Wednesday – that the figures are “more evidence of utterly unacceptable behaviour in the MoD and ministers’ failure to get to grips with deep challenges in defence”.

She added: “The defence secretary must take the lead and root this out.”

Following October's letter raising concerns that the MoD's culture is "hostile" to women, the Prospect union published a survey in which 61% of MoD staff said they had experienced sexual harassment at work, while 73% felt behaviours that would be considered “toxic and inappropriate in public life” were tolerated in the defence sector. 

The union has called for "wholesale culture change" and urged the Equality and Human Rights Commission to investigate.

The department recently renewed its contract for a 24-hour anti-bullying helpline, which CSW understands has received more than 700 calls since it was set up.

Eagle said a Labour government would appoint an armed forces commissioner “to act as a strong independent voice to improve the lives of serving personnel and their families”.

Defence ministers previously revealed that there had been a surge in bullying complaints made by civilian workers in the ministry. They also disclosed that the number and size of compensation payouts for bullying and harassment had doubled over four years.

An MoD spokesperson said: “We do not tolerate abuse, bullying or discrimination of any kind and all allegations are thoroughly investigated.

“We encourage anyone who believes they have experienced or witnessed unacceptable behaviour to report it and while some cases can be complicated and take time, swift action is taken where possible.

“A range of measures have been introduced to improve the experience for everyone across the department, including improvements to reporting mechanisms, increased access to support and a 24/7 anti-bullying helpline.”

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