family friendly

Friday 11th August 2023

As a result of feedback from Armed Forces families, Defence is adopting more inclusive language and terminology to describe families and relationships.

Armed Forces families in the UK make a valuable contribution to Defence and we are committed to better supporting their requirements and meeting their needs. To do that, we need to understand what they are, and listening to Service families will tell us that.

A key area that we are addressing is around modernising the language that we use to describe Service families in Defence Policy.

We listened to Armed Forces families
Last year, in a series of focus group sessions with Forces families, a recurring theme emerged – participants widely considered the terminology used to describe families in Defence Policy as offensive. Examples of these “offensive” terms included “dependant/dependent”, which described a spouse/partner of Service personnel and “legitimate/legitimated”, which described a Service child.

One family member said: “being described as a ‘dependant’ in Defence Policy and on passes for Defence sites assumes that I depend on my husband for financial support or that I have difficulty making decisions for myself. I do not. I am independent, I earn my own income. Being described as a ‘dependant’ is derogatory, I would rather be described as a ‘family member’ or ‘partner/spouse.’”

The term “dependant” appears on policy documents across Defence. The term is also used on badges and passes to identify a spouse/partner of a Service person. This is not reflective of modern relationships.

We’re implementing changes
We are replacing the offensive terms mentioned in our policies and replacing them with more inclusive terminology. New policies will also use this updated terminology. In policies where the use of terminology has a legislative or legal meaning, and therefore cannot be changed right now, we will need to consider how best to reflect our commitment to using inclusive language. We are however making a start.

The replacement terms for “dependant/dependent” will be, according to the original context, either “family”, “spouse/partner”, “immediate family” or “close family”. The replacement term for “legitimate/legitimated” will be “parental responsibility”. The new term will be replacing “legitimate/legitimated” in the definition of a Service child, and wherever it appears in this context in Defence policy.

Of the changes, the family member said: “it is a welcome change to hear that Defence is beginning to move away from its archaic terminology and starting to recognise that change is needed.”

Making Defence more inclusive

This is more than just changing some words in policy documents. We will continue to think about the language that we use and the unintended impact that it can have on Service families. We will continue to engage with Service families and use their feedback to become more inclusive and reflective of modern family structures.

For more information on how Defence aims to address the challenges that Armed Forces Families face, read the UK Armed Forces Families Strategy 2022 to 2032.

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