Page last updated at 17:14 GMT, Thursday, 5 June 2008 18:14 UK

For Queen, country and low pay?

Armed forces pay is far too low, the head of the British Army has said. One former officer who recently left the forces agrees that wages in the UK military fail to reflect the contribution of personnel.

Black Watch soldier in Iraq
Soldiers' wages have been compared to those of traffic wardens

It is a job fraught with risks - but critics say the sacrifices of a soldier's job is not matched with rewards.

The prime minister has promised to do "everything in our power" to help servicemen and women after General Sir Richard Dannatt said their salaries were too low.

One man who felt a twinge of recognition on hearing the army chief's remarks was Alastair Galloway, 31, who left the Household Cavalry in October 2007 as a Captain.

As a former platoon commander at the Army Foundation College in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, he had been responsible for training new recruits.

As he watched their careers progress, Mr Galloway says, he would see their frustration at low wages creeping in.

'It's heartbreaking'

"When they first join at 16 or 17, it's maybe the first time they've earned a wage - they think the money is fine," he says.

"But when they join a regiment their priorities change - they get girlfriends and start to think about buying a house, starting a family and so on. And it's very difficult for them.

Salary at age 18: 16,227
Operational Allowance: (182 days) 2,380.56 (during six month tour of Afghanistan)
Longer Separation Allowance: (182 days) 1,132.04
Other perks including dental care and free eye tests: 510
Financial assistance for learning costs: 2,175
Subsidised living accommodation: 425.83
Estimated annual employers' pension contribution: 3,148.04
Total: 25,998.47
Source: Ministry of Defence

"This will, of course, affect morale, and it's a factor they weigh up when they're deciding whether to stay on or leave.

"You've got to remember, these guys are putting their lives on the line."

The government has strenuously denied claims the salaries of soldiers - which start at 16,227 for a 16-year-old - are comparable to those of a traffic warden.

Defence minister Derek Twigg told BBC News the full package for an 18-year-old serving in Afghanistan, including allowances and pension contributions, works out at around 25,000 to 26,000.

But Mr Galloway says that, by contrast, soldiers' hourly rate can fall below the minimum wage.

He says: "Part of the job of an officer is to be there for them if they come to you with problems.

"If those include financial difficulties, then that means sitting down with them and trying to work things out. I've had to do that.

"It's heartbreaking to see brave men and women - and their families - not being properly rewarded for the sacrifices they make."

'Falling behind'

Even the salaries of officers, he says, fail to match jobs of equivalent responsibility in the private sector.

He says: "Joining the army as an officer after university, the wages are comparable to those of graduate recruitment schemes.

"But then after a few years you see your friends starting to get big bonuses and you realise you are falling behind."

Now working in the City, Mr Galloway is also involved in campaigning against the limitations of Armed Forces Compensation Scheme.

He hopes that by speaking out he can highlight the plight of men and women accustomed to risking their lives.

"Everyone always wants a pay rise. But soldiers really do need to feel appreciated," he said.


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