Veteran David Iveson painted in a football stadium

Veterans hidden in plain sight

For the first time veterans will be identified in the 2021 census and will no longer be hidden in plain sight.

The last census told us more about those who state their religion is ‘Jedi Knights’ or ‘Heavy Metal’ than it did about our ex-serving personnel.

It may surprise many people to learn that we don’t know exactly how many veterans there are in the UK, or where they are. We think there are currently around 2.4 million veterans living in Great Britain, but this is only an estimate, and little is known about the size of the community or what their needs might be.

Whilst the 2011 census asked two questions relating to those currently serving in the Armed Forces it did not collect any information about whether someone had previously served in the Armed Forces.

Mark Jarvis painted for the Count them in, Armed Forces census campaign

Count Them In

In 2016, together with Poppyscotland we launched a campaign calling on the Government to add a question on past service in the UK Armed Forces in the 2021 census.

For years leading up to the launch of the Count Them In campaign we had highlighted the issue of a lack of information about ex-serving personnel. The government has some information, but it’s mainly about veterans who are in receipt of a pension or compensation and isn’t representative of the whole community and isn’t comparable to the general population.

We launched the Count Them In campaign in May 2016 to coincided with the fifth anniversary of the publishing of the Armed Forces Covenant, which makes sure the Armed Forces community face no disadvantage because of their service.

To launch the campaign four veterans were painted into their surroundings to highlight how current census data leaves them invisible amongst the general population.

People across the country were asked to show their support for the campaign by contacting their local MP and posting on their social media.

Veteran Darren Fuller painted outside the Houses of Parliament


Initially the campaign faced some resistance from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the body responsible for setting the census questions for England and Wales and other statistical agencies, who argued the data could perhaps be sourced elsewhere.

Our public affairs team worked tirelessly, and the campaign won support from veterans, charities, academic organisations, councils, MPs and decision makers from across the UK.

Thanks to the team’s incredible hard work and dedication the statistics agencies finally agreed to add a question in the next census.

Count them in update


After four years of hard-fought campaigning, legislation was finally passed in June 2020 by the UK Government and Parliament to include a veteran question in the next census in England and Wales. For the first time a question asking whether someone has served in HM Armed Forces will be included in the census.

The information gathered as a result will give us a better picture of the Armed Forces community, so we can get a clearer understanding of the size of the community, where veterans and their families are and what their needs might be.

It will help us, along with other charities, public bodies and local authorities, to make sure services and support are tailored to the community’s needs. It will allow the NHS to plan ahead and provide appropriate care for veteran specific conditions – including social care providers who will know where demand on care homes with large numbers of veterans is likely to be.

Veteran Frank Simpson painted in front of a book case

Local authorities will also be able to provide more tailored support to the Armed Forces community with housing needs, employment support, and specialist mental health services.   

It will also help us to uphold the Armed Forces Covenant promise that no one should face disadvantage because of their service, by giving us comparisons between the Armed Forces community and the general population so we can find and address any inequalities.

Similar census legislation was passed by the Scottish parliament in June last year, which will see the inclusion of an Armed Forces question in the next Scottish census which has been delayed to March 2022 due to the impact of Covid-19.

The census 2021 will take place in England and Wales on Sunday 21 March and we are encouraging ex-serving personnel to fill it out as soon as they receive their code in the post.

Campaigning for the needs and interests of the Armed Forces community has been and always will be one of our guiding principles.

We have been campaigning for the community for the past 100 years and will continue to do so long into the next century.

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