Bullying, harassment and discrimination compensation payments issued by the Ministry of Defence 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% 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”.
The statistics emerged in parliament after Maria Eagle, Labour MP for Garston and Halewood, tabled a series of written questions to the MoD.
Robert Courts, Conservative MP for Witney, and Chair of the Defence Committee, told CSW's sister title PoliticsHome the MoD should be transparent about why compensation payments had soared over the last four years.
“This raises understandable welfare concerns, particularly in the light of recent stories. MoD ought to explain, in as much detail as possible, what lies behind the increase in payments in order to reassure serving personnel and the public,” Courts said.
In November, 60 senior civilian women described the MoD’s working environment as “toxic” and "hostile", in a complaint revealed by the Guardian. The newspaper published a letter which accused male co-workers of sexual harassment and repeated inappropriate comments they had received.
Personal accounts from some of the women accused senior male staff of groping, touching female staff on the “lower back and legs”, and rating women by their physical appearance on an Excel spreadsheet.
The MoD told the Guardian it was deeply concerned by the volume of complaints made against the department.
“No woman should be made to feel unsafe in Defence and this behaviour will not be tolerated. We also continue to encourage anyone who has experienced or witnessed this kind of inexcusable behaviour, to report it immediately,” a spokesperson for the department told the newspaper.
In July 2022, parliament's Defence Committee published a report that said it had “serious concerns” about how the department processed complaints.
Sarah Atherton, Conservative MP for Wrexham, and chair of the Sub-Committee on Women in the Armed Forces, said it was still a “reality” that some female staff were sexually assaulted, harassed and bullied.
The MoD last year announced a “further crackdown” on unacceptable behaviour. A “zero-tolerance” policy to address sexual harassment offences was published in March, which promised to throw out those who were found guilty of committing sexual offences and bar them from serving ever again.
A 24-hour staff helpline has now been set up by the MoD for staff to help them on bullying, harassment and discrimination. The department also offers "active bystander and holistic allies training", while it is in the middle of rolling out diversity and inclusion training for all staff including "personal perspective" training.
A Ministry of Defence spokesperson said: “We do not tolerate abuse, bullying or discrimination of any kind, which is why we have introduced many changes to improve the experience for everyone in the Armed Forces, including improvements to service complaints ensuring independence from the chain of command, enhanced reporting mechanisms and diversity and inclusion training, and increased access to support for personnel.
“We actively encourage any personnel who believe they have experienced or witnessed unacceptable behaviour to report it. All allegations of unacceptable behaviour are taken extremely seriously and are thoroughly investigated. If proven, swift action will be taken.”
Tom Scotson and Tali Fraser are journalists for CSW's sister title PoliticsHome, where this story first appeared