Labour graph showing reduction in army size is misleading

18 March 2022
What was claimed

The Conservatives cut the army from 98,000 personnel in 2010 to 72,500 in 2021 - a reduction of over 25,000.

Our verdict

72,500 represents the planned army size by 2025, not the actual army size in 2021. In 2021 at its smallest the army had 76,348 full-time trade-trained personnel—around 21,650 fewer than in 2010.

A graph shared by the Labour party claims the Conservatives cut the size of the army to 72,500 personnel by 2021—a fall of over 25,000 since 2010. While the size of the army has fallen significantly, this is not an accurate figure.

The graph was first shared by Labour on Facebook and Twitter in March 2021. But it has been reshared in recent days following the invasion of Ukraine, including by Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner and local Labour groups such as the Wrexham Labour party

It was announced in March 2021 that the government intended to reduce the army to 72,500 by 2025, but in 2021 the army was larger than that. In January 2021, which was the most recently available data point when the chart was first shared by Labour, and the point in 2021 when the army was its smallest, it had 76,348 full-time trade-trained personnel. 

The figures for the previous years in the chart are based on the army size in April of each year, and in April 2021 the size of the army was 77,200. 

Even if we look at the figure for January 2021, when the army was at its smallest that year, this means there were around 21,650 fewer trade-trained army personnel than there were in 2010, rather than “over 25,000” fewer.

Where do the figures in the graph come from?

The graph, which compares the size of the army under Labour governments in 1997, 2000, 2005 and 2010 with the size under Coalition and Conservative governments in 2015 and 2021, uses figures from Ministry of Defence statistics.

There are two different ways of measuring the number of full-time army personnel: full-time trained strength (FTTS) and full-time trade-trained strength (FTTTS). Full-time trained strength refers to personnel who have passed their phase one basic training, while full-time trade-trained strength refers to those who have passed phase two specialist training.

Previously, military personnel were considered to be untrained until they had completed phase two training. But from October 2016 the army began to use two definitions: trained and trade-trained. From this point, personnel who had completed phase one were considered “trained”, so that they were able to help respond to any UK crisis like floods, while phase two became “trade-trained”. Targets set by the Ministry of Defence are based on phase two trade-trained personnel. 

All the figures used in the graph are based on the full-time trade-trained strength of the army.

The latest figures show that, as of January 2022, there were 82,580 full-time trained personnel in the army, of which 77,380 were full-time trade-trained personnel. 

Unconfirmed reports have suggested that the planned reduction to a 72,500-strong army by 2025 may not go ahead in light of Russia’s war with Ukraine.

Labour did not respond to a request for comment.

Picture from 7th Army Training Command via Flickr.

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After we published this fact check, we contacted Labour, Angela Rayner and the Wrexham Labour party to request corrections. 

Angela Rayner did not respond.

Labour and the Wrexham Labour party did not take any action.

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