Armed forces to offer career breaks to tackle recruitment crisis

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The Independent Online

Senior officers in the British armed forces are to combat a growing recruitment crisis by offering personnel discretionary career breaks.

In an attempt to retain the growing numbers of servicemen and women in their thirties who are leaving the armed forces because of the pressures of raising a family, periods of up to three years' unpaid leave will be granted on the basis of "personal circumstances".

Negative publicity surrounding images of personnel leaving young children behind to go to war is having a major impact on recruitment capability, defence chiefs have warned.

Capt Georgina Symonds, 28, from the Royal Logistics Corp, has done tours of duty in Iraq, the Balkans, and Oman. She said she would take advantage of the new scheme. "I had a baby last September and thought I might like to extend my maternity leave," she said.

In February of this year, 4,030 regular army soldiers were recruited, compared with 4,930 who left. The effect of such changes has been to leave the armed forces with a shortfall of more than 6,000 personnel.

The leave can be applied for after three years of service, and personnel would be required to complete any return-of-service obligation.

Military chiefs are hoping that the new measure attracts positive publicity after a spate of recent controversies. Ahead of yesterday's main Remembrance Day march past the Cenotaph in Whitehall, many serving soldiers, who have received horrific injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan, were denied their wish to join in.

The British Legion contacted the soldiers to explain that under government rules only veterans could take part in the march. The controversy comes amid heated debate over the level of government spending on defence.

General Lord Guthrie, Admiral Lord Boyce and Marshal of the Royal Air Force Lord Craig have teamed up with the former foreign secretary Lord Owen to demand that the armed forces' annual funding be raised from £34bn to nearly £50bn.