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Analysis of Armed Forces leavers’ data

The aim of this project was to assess whether using MOD data on service leavers in conjunction with 2011 Census data could meet a user need for more data on the characteristics of those who have served, and now left, the UK armed forces (service leavers). The ONS consultation on topic content for the 2021 Census [1] identified a need for such information to help government departments, local authorities and others meet their obligations under the Armed Forces Covenant in providing services to armed forces veterans.

We explored the feasibility of anonymously linking the Veteran Leavers Database (VLD) held by the Ministry of Defence (MOD) to 2011 Census data held by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) and National Records of Scotland (NRS). It was the first ADRN project to take place in all 4 UK countries simultaneously (which involved 3 different Censuses).

The main aims of the project were to find out:

  • the demographic, social and economic characteristics of service leavers and their families living in the UK
  • the geographical distribution of service leavers and their families living in the UK and whether it would be possible to present estimates for service leavers to low level geographies, for example by local authority (LA), county council (CC), district council (DC) or clinical commissioning groups (CCG).

What is the Veteran Leavers Database?

The Ministry of Defence maintains a Veteran Leavers Database (VLD), of approximately 1.9 million Service personnel who have left the UK Armed Forces, since circa 1975. The information in the VLD reflects all personnel who left Service since circa 1975. 


What will be analysed?

Descriptive statistics will provide information on the demographics and location of service leavers and their families. MOD will be creating summary tables of grouped data and geographical distributions, and some simple correlations and multivariate analysis for the four key topics for the Armed Forces Covenant: housing, education, employment and health.


What will the benefits be?

The project will help improve existing services and potentially help develop new services for service leavers in individual constituent countries, as well as across the UK as a whole. For example, in England the NHS, through Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCG), commissions healthcare services for service leavers and their families. The NHS want to understand the number of service leavers  in their areas to enable better planning and targeting of resources and care, estimating the costs and economic benefits of effective service delivery and health promotion, and referral to bespoke NHS services and charitable health and welfare providers.


Data Linkage and Analysis

ONS hold Census data for England and Wales, and received 2011 Census data for Northern Ireland. In Scotland, the VLD was linked to the Scotland’s Census 2011 as a separate project.

We anonymously linked the Veterans Leavers Database (VLD) to the 2011 Census in our safe and secure research environment to see if it could provide sufficient information to meet users’ needs.

  • We matched half of the approximately 1.9 million records in the VLD to the 2011 Census (53%); in Scotland the match rate was similar at 54%
  • We matched a greater number of those aged between 25 and 69
  • Our early analysis suggest that the data becomes less reliable for older individuals, particularly the over 55’s.

So whilst the linked data provide a useful research resource for informing policy and service delivery for those aged 16 to 55, it misses a large part of the service leavers’ population. Data users need information on the whole population and therefore we’ve concluded that the linked data only partially meet the user needs.

Following this linkage work, ONS has since announced that it intends to recommend including a question on Armed Forces leavers in the 2021 Census in England and Wales [1]. National Records of Scotland is currently undertaking a programme of work on question development and testing including testing a question on ex-service personnel.


Further information and links

[1] https://www.ons.gov.uk/census/censustransformationprogramme/consultations/the2021censusinitialviewoncontentforenglandandwales/updateonmeetinginformationneedsonthearmedforcescommunityveterans


Page last updated: 19/12/2017