Britain’s “moral contract” with its armed forces has been “corroded” and must be renewed, Labour’s shadow defence secretary will say on Tuesday.
John Healey is expected to use a speech at the London Defence Conference to argue that 13 years of Conservative government have contributed to poor accommodation, falling morale and increasing numbers leaving the armed forces.
He will say: “While threats increase, our ‘hollowed out’ forces are working with fewer troops and without vital kit they need to fight and fulfil our NATO obligations.”
Mr Healey is expected to point to a survey conducted in 2022 that found just 45% of personnel were satisfied with service life and 39% reporting low morale in their unit.
In March, Labour launched a campaign for improved accommodation for service personnel, blaming “damp and mouldy housing” for falling morale and criticising the Government for “failing in their duty to our forces”.
Mr Healey’s speech will also take aim at comments from Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, who told the Commons in January that the UK’s armed forces had been “hollowed out and underfunded”.
He will also repeat calls for the Government to halt planned cuts to the number of full-time soldiers in light of increased threats to Britain’s security and ensure the armed forces have the equipment they need to fulfil the UK’s commitments to Nato.
In the past decade, the Army has shrunk from 97,000 full-time, trained soldiers to 76,000, and the Future Soldier programme will see it reduced further to 73,000 regulars while increase the size of the Army Reserve.
Several high-profile defence contracts, including the Ajax armoured vehicle and the E7 Wedgetail surveillance plane, have experienced delays, which Labour claims have undermined the UK’s ability to meet its Nato commitments.
As well as an end to Army cuts, Labour has called for a stockpiles strategy to replace equipment that has been sent to Ukraine. Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, the Chief of the Defence Staff, has previously warned that returning the UK’s stockpiles to pre-Ukraine war levels could take “several years”.
March’s Budget saw the Government commit another £5 billion to defence spending over the next two years, with most of the money going towards major projects and investment rather than day-to-day costs.
Rishi Sunak also announced an aim of increasing defence spending from 2% of GDP to 2.5%, but gave no timeframe for achieving this target.
On Tuesday, Mr Healey is expected to reiterate Labour’s commitment to supporting Ukraine, saying: “UK military support for Ukraine has had – and will continue to have – Labour’s fullest backing.
“There might be a change to Labour next year, but there will be no change in Britain’s resolve to stand with Ukraine, confront Russian aggression and pursue Putin for his war crimes.”
A Conservative Party spokesman said: “We will take no lectures on defence from a party which wanted to abolish our armed forces, withdraw from Nato, and scrap our nuclear deterrent.
“While the last Labour government left a £38 billion black hole in our defence budget – we will continue to keep the UK and our allies safe as we deliver on the people’s priorities. Halve inflation. Grow the economy. Reduce debt. Cut waiting lists. Stop the boats.”