On 22 July 2021, the House of Lords is due to debate the following motion:

Lord Lingfield (Conservative) to ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the social impact of their funding of cadet forces.

What are the cadet forces?

The five cadet forces are the:

As at 1 April 2021, there were 120,110 cadets, all between 12 and 18 years old. This was a decrease from 130,310 at 1 April 2020.

The 2021 figures comprised 46,070 in the school-based CCF (an increase from 45,020 in 2020) and 74,040 in the community cadets, comprising the remaining four units (a fall from 85,290 in 2020). The cadet forces were supported by 27,470 adult volunteers (a decrease from 28,920 in 2020).

33% of community cadets and 36% of the CCF were female as at 1 April 2021.

How are cadet units funded?

In July 2020, the Minister for the Armed Forces, James Heappey, stated that the cost of the cadet forces to the Ministry of Defence was approximately £175 million in 2018/19. He said that there was no discrete budget for the cadets, as the costs of supporting them “falls across a wide range of business areas, agencies and organisations”.

On 23 September 2020, Mr Heappey stated that the ACF, ATC and CCF were “wholly funded or managed” by the Ministry of Defence. In contrast, he said SCC units were “independent charities in their own right”. The VCC reports that the “vast majority” of its costs are met from its own funding, although it does receive a “capitation grant” from the Ministry of Defence.

The Department for Education also provides support for some areas of the cadet programme.

What is their social impact?

University of Northampton study

In May 2021, the University of Northampton published an independent report into the social impact of the cadet forces and the return on investment of expenditure on them. The report, commissioned by the Ministry of Defence, concluded:

The social impact of the cadet forces is very positive, and the returns on investment delivered indicate that expenditure on the cadet forces is a very good use of taxpayers’ money that supports social mobility and community cohesion.

It found a particularly strong positive effect for cadets that suffer “economic and other disadvantages”. For these people, the report stated it is “very possible” that being a cadet is “a key factor that enables them to achieve positive life outcomes”.

The study found that benefits from being a cadet included:

  • improved school attendance and educational outcomes;
  • better mental and physical wellbeing;
  • reduced vulnerability—for example, to bullying and to criminal or extremist organisations;
  • increased social mobility; and
  • enhanced employability.

Cadets are also able to access vocational qualifications through the Cadet Vocational Qualification Organisation (CVQO). These can equate to GCSEs. The Northampton University report found that CVQO qualifications deliver an “extremely positive” return on investment and were, “in many cases, potentially lifechanging”.

The report discussed the benefits to adult volunteers who support the cadets. Again, it said these included health benefits. Volunteers can also take CVQOs, and, as for cadets, the report argued these could improve the career prospects of volunteers.

Considering wider benefits, the study said that cadet forces can promote “inclusive community links across ethnic, religious and socio-economic dimensions”.

The report stated that the annual cost of the cadet programme was around £180 million. It was not able to make a monetary estimate of the total benefits. However, it provided “indicative” figures in some areas. For example, it said:

  • The benefits to volunteers, including health benefits and those deriving from CVQO qualifications, were approximately £479 million per year.
  • The value of the improved mental and physical wellbeing of cadets was around £95 million per year. This derived from factors such as increased educational attendance, reduced use of GP and mental health services and increased future tax receipts as a result of higher expected earnings.
  • The value of CVQOs for one (2018/19) cohort of cadets alone was £109 million.

Combining these and the uncalculated benefits in other areas, the report concluded that “there is a very large, positive return on the expenditure of taxpayers’ money on the cadet forces in the UK”.

Finally, the report discussed whether, in light of these findings, more cadet places ought to be made available, particularly to those from disadvantaged backgrounds. It concluded that it was “difficult to envisage” an expansion beyond the current plans set out in the cadet expansion scheme (summarised below). It said this was because of the “pressure and constraints” on the regular and reserve forces, which are needed to provide expert support to the cadets.

What is government policy on cadets?

In July 2020, the Government said it was “absolutely convinced of the benefits of cadets” for both the individuals involved and for society. It added that cadets offer “outstanding value for money” and that the Government was “committed to supporting the cadet movement”.

On 22 March 2021, the Government set out its plan for the future of defence. This followed the publication of the wider Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy. The defence plan stated that “the cadets are a key part of our youth agenda”. It committed to “sustain” the five cadet forces and invest further in the cadet expansion programme.

Cadet expansion scheme

The cadet expansion programme (CEP) was launched in June 2012 by the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, and then Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. It aimed to increase the number of cadet units in state funded schools in England. The costs were met by a combination of public and private funding.

Initially, the target was to create 100 new units. The Government reported that this target was met six months early, in March 2015. It then set a further aim to increase the number of units in state schools to 500, prioritising schools in less affluent areas. In November 2019, it claimed this target had been met five months early, stating that it had achieved 500 cadet units in UK schools.

In September 2018, the then Secretary of State for Defence, Gavin Williamson, set a further aim to reach 60,000 cadets in English schools by April 2024, an increase from 43,000 at the time of the target. On 1 March 2021, the Government noted that progress towards this target has been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

On 9 March 2021, the Government said there were 319 state funded schools with a cadet unit. Subsequently, the Department for Education provided the Lords Library with the following figures for the current numbers of units in UK schools as at 6 July 2021:

Independent schools with units that existed prior to CEP 187
State schools with units the existed prior to CEP 58
Schools joining under CEP (all phases) (independent and state) 263
Total 508

On 2 April 2021, the Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson, announced a £1.1 million investment in existing state school cadet units to increase the numbers of pupils participating.

Opposition policy

In a June 2019 debate, the opposition spokesperson, Lord Tunnicliffe, said that the Labour Party “strongly supports” the cadet expansion scheme and recognises the benefits of being a cadet. He called for the Government to encourage greater participation amongst girls and those from ethnic minority backgrounds. He also suggested a review of awards for cadets and volunteers, to make them equivalent to recognised standards such as the Duke of Edinburgh awards.

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Cover image by PO Phot Owen Cooban / Copyright: UK MOD © Crown copyright 2021.