According to the Sunday Times, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) is facing legal action over plans to cut the pensions of Gurkhas by discharging them three years before they are due to leave the army. The move means that the MoD will avoid having to pay an ordinary Gurkha soldier more than £200,000.
The policy was introduced by civil servants after they were forced to increase the Gurkhas’ pay and pensions to bring them into line with the rest of the army. An official briefing document on the new pension scheme shows that 80%-85% of Gurkhas will be discharged early, so missing the better payments. The soldiers will lose out not only on the immediate pension they would get after 18 years’ service but also on a lump sum departure payment of the equivalent of three years’ pension. The full pension will be worth around £6,500 a year for a rifleman, the basic Gurkha rank – plus the one-off departure payment. In the past, most Gurkhas served only for 15 years, after which they received an immediate pension that was much smaller and worth only about £1,200 a year for a rifleman. But Gurkhas on the new scheme will now get nothing until they are 65, if the MoD decides they are among the 80%-85% who are to be thrown out at 15 years. For most Gurkhas who join the army at 18, that will deprive them of a total of 32 years’ pension money, £208,000 for a basic rifleman, and far more for an NCO.
The briefing document says the army will recruit far too many Gurkhas if they are allowed to serve to the 18-year point, so most will be discharged after 15 years with no immediate pension and no departure payment. The ready availability of recruits for the Gurkhas among young Nepalese men has led the MoD to decide to discharge older soldiers early rather than cut the number of recruits. A “manning control scheme” was used from the late 1990s until 2002, in an attempt to cut the MoD’s pension liability by preventing some soldiers serving to the point at which they received an immediate pension. But its deliberate intent to cut pension payments was exposed in 2002 after a series of cases in which highly experienced soldiers with extremely good reports were thrown out at a time when the army was desperately short of such men. Ministers ordered civil servants to stop using the scheme to discharge good soldiers and it has not been used since. It has been revived specifically to control the numbers of Gurkha soldiers. Doug Young, the BAFF chairman, said it was staggering that “the MoD should consider reintroducing their discredited manning control policy for anyone, let alone for Gurkha soldiers only. This raises several important legal issues, not only racial discrimination, serious as that would be”.
If this story is true it is an utter disgrace. There was a huge fight to give the Gurkhas the same pay and pension rights as other soldiers and now that good work is being subverted. How can a department that has wasted (and will certainly continue to waste) enormous sums on half baked programmes (remember the Nimrod Awacs development?) pinch pennies in such a way? It also beggars belief that the MOD would wish to discharge good and experienced soldiers at a time when the armed services are facing serious recruitment problems. Would it not make sense to retain these soldiers? I would have thought so. If recruitment problems persist would it not be a good idea to expand the Gurkha contingent? After all, there are plenty of young Nepalese men and women who would willingly serve in our army.