Navy Cyberspace Surface Ship Website Header

British Junior Enlisted Living in Poverty?

British Military Base Pay Comparison

Updated: September 19, 2014

Today a newspaper, The Independent, in United Kingdom published a story about how some members of the British Army must take out loans just to be able to eat. I thought after reading the story a comparison would be in order.

Much like the United States’ Military the British provides compensation for food, housing and travel. They also have special pays for things like jumping out of perfectly good airplanes or going on a ship that sinks on purpose. But for this article I am only going to compare our basic enlisted US military pay against the basic pay of the British Soldier pay for 2008.

When you look at the British chart you will see ranks of OR1, 2, all the way to OR9. The OR number equates to the United States military E-1, 2, etc. The only change is E-5 and E-6 are equivalent in rank to OR6. The British chart also displays “levels” – If I remember correctly the level can be job specific. As an example, a newly enlisted infantry Soldier may enter service as an OR1 Level 1 whereas an Electronics trained technician may start out as an OR1 Level 9. In the US Military everyone of equal rank and time in service gets the same basic pay regardless of the job you are trained to do. With how confusing the pay structure is it must make recruiting in the UK a difficult proposition at best.

A new enlistee into the British Military will receive £13,012.80 – essentially our E-1 under 4 months. I will start with the more generic; an OR1 level 1 according to the chart gets a yearly basic pay of £16,226.76 or by using today’s pound to dollar rate of $1.9541 per pound it equals $31,709 as compared to a US Military E-3 at $19,056.

Lets take a look at the higher end of the scale. A US Military E-9 with over 20 years of service makes before taxes $59880 as compared to an OR9 Level 5 at $77,782.

Does it cost about 30% more to live in the UK than it does in the US? (Well, my only point of reference is a Big Mac costs about 20% more in the UK :)) Regardless, it is appalling that this discussion about how little we pay the members of the armed forces even takes place at all. Today, every Sailor, Soldier, Airman and Marine volunteered to serve – keep in mind “volunteer” doesn’t mean “work for free”.

How about we do this – take a poll of every tax paying citizen – ask them how much pay it would take to get them to go fight a war, average that number and pay it to those who did volunteer. Let us also put a law into place that when The President, Prime Minister, Parliament and Congress sends troops into harms way their pay stops until the conflict is over and the troops come home. Ahh, I’m ranting and it’s late… Good nite and sleep well – you can because we don’t serve only for the money :)



7 Responses to “British Military Base Pay Comparison”


  1. Susan says:

    My husband and I have discussed the pay situation in depth, and he definitely didn’t volunteer for the money. The financial hit we took this year (my husband is in the guard and his civilian pay is quite a bit more than his military pay), is something we anticipated.
    He has said several times that he would not prefer higher pay. The lower pay keeps those out of service that only want to do it for the money. He would probably do it for free if he didn’t have to worry about feeding and housing me and the kids.
    I do think the lower pay has a lot to do with problems retaining troops. I like your idea of taking a poll!

  2. Paul says:

    A big mac is hardly a method of comparing pay. I am English and over there (I live in the US now) a packet of cigarettes is approx $11 and a gallon of gas the same. Housing prices are enormously different if you compare like for like. At a guess i would say your house prices are around 3 times cheaper (at least). And clothes are far cheaper here too. I suggest you go a little further into it than compare fast food prices, then maybe you’d be talking sense.
    also in the UK ‘veterans’ do not nearly get the recognition that they get over here. We tend to take them for granted. That’s how it is.

  3. John downer says:

    The British military is a disgrace for how it treats it’s soldiers. Soldiers have very little opportunity to move up the ranks and earn a better living like the US military which provides this opportunity readily based on merit ex. you may find a 22 year old sergeant in the US army but not in the British army as they don’t care how good you are you need at least 8 years of service to be a sergeant…

    for an enlisted rank to become an officer it is even much harder – it’s just a military with a backward system e.x. they have an age cap on joining as an officer if you are above age 29 and you join at say age 30 your only option is to start as a private even though you may have 2 masters degrees and years of corporate management experience – you may have another 15 years to climb the ranks, become a sergeant major and if you are lucky then you get to be a captain. If you joined at 28 years and 11 months and you have A’ levels (kind of like SAT 2), have never entered college (no degrees), have zero working experience, then you may enter the British army as an officer.
    General Colin Powell has said in praising America and the opportunities that the US army gives, he said that if he were in the British army then he probably would have made it to the rank of Sergeant if so lucky… the fact is the British Army is just like the British society, it’s a classicist organization just like the society from which it stems, in America anybody can become somebody if you work hard and apply yourself right; in Britain if you are born poor the game is set against you to remain that way… rich kids and princes will always be officers, look at the princes – they just joined because it is the princely thing to do… basically two playboys in the military for photo shoots, still undisciplined, clubbing and all, princes gallivanting in military uniforms – Prince William flew a $20 million dollar helicopter that operates at a cost of over $12000/hr to visit his girlfriend to say hey I can fly, and you can say that I am wrong because they are legitimate service men that go to war, well Prince Harry went to war and brought the media with him – an irresponsible act that made his unit returned from Afghanistan immediately as it hit the news – did you see that private pushing around his prince on a bike while they were in a combat zone… so childish and so servile.

  4. DrFox says:

    There is some distortion here without having the full facts. British army basic pay is second highest in NATO however, unnlike the US army they do not receive addtional pay (other than a paultry allowance) and tax exemption while in action. In this situation they are 2nsd lowest paid.
    Comparing ranks OR1 to OR9 is also flawed. It takes longer to be proomoted as the repsonsibilities are higher. An infantry section is led by a corporal (OR-4) in the US it more often led by a Staff sergeant (OR-6). The senior NCO under the officer in a platoon tend to be a an OR7 (SFC( in the US army and a Segeant in the British (OR 5/6) Army. A British Lance Corporal is in many ways like a US sergeant.

  5. DrFox says:

    The cristicism of recruitment based on age and class int the British army is also exaggerated. There are undoubtedly remnats of snobbery but recruiting officers is far more of a meritocracy now. There is still a statisical skew towards privtely educated individuals but this is down to the tradtions in existing famiilies and culture in teaching leadership skills and school based cadet forces that are not a common in the state sector. Good candidates who have the abilities and can command authority from any background can make it.
    As for the age, the age for joining is ideally under 30 to get the most out of fitter people over a longer career of 25 to 30 years. This has been raised in all enlisted ranks AND some officer roles (such as medical) where there is a recruitment shortage. For most regular officer roles there is currently and therefore no need to extend the age based on applicants.

  6. DrFox says:

    Sorry, that last sentence shoud read:
    For most regular officer roles there is currently no similar shortage and therefore, there is no need to extend the maxiumum age of applicants.

  7. NCCM(Ret) says:

    DrFox, Thank you for your input to the discussion.

    We have some of the same differences even within our own armed forces. A Master Chief (E-7/8) in the Navy often has the same and even sometimes more responsibility than that of an Army Captain (O-3). Depends on circumstances.

    When I wrote this comparison it was in response to the article I referenced – I will always be amazed at the low level of compensation low and medium ranking members of the volunteer armed forces receive.

Leave a Reply

A Navy recruiting blog that delves into the military enlistment process and benefits of service. This is NOT an official United States Navy or government web site. The opinions expressed are my own, and may not be in-line with any branches of the government or military.

©Navy Cyberspace. All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, content written by Thomas Goering, NCCM USN(RET).

Terms of Service and Privacy Policy