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10 Feb, 2024 22:46

UK military scraps tattoo ban

The Royal Air Force is easing restrictions on hand tattoos amid a historic slump in recruitment
UK military scraps tattoo ban

The UK Royal Air Force has dropped a ban on hand tattoos for new recruits and current personnel, Forces News reported on Thursday, citing an internal briefing addressed to senior RAF commanders and recruiters. 

“A number of potential recruits were ineligible to join the RAF due to having tattoos contrary to the policy,” the memo said, without elaborating on how many were rejected.

“This change in policy is consistent with the RAF’s inclusion policies, helps to ensure that we continue to be representative of the modern-day society we serve and aligns us with Royal Navy and Army policies,” an RAF spokesman told Forces News.

The move is a reversal of a longstanding policy that explicitly prohibited any hand tattoos that could not be covered by a wedding ring. Since 2019, the RAF has also allowed tattoos on the eyebrows and neck so long as they cannot be seen in uniform and do not extend beyond the natural hairline. 

While the Navy and Army permit hand tattoos, they draw the line at the face and neck – anything that would appear in a passport photo – and prohibit piercings and modifications that “change the way you look,” like large gauged earlobes. All branches of the military prohibit obscene, offensive, sexually explicit, violent, drug-related, or political tattoos.

The RAF did not say how many recruits it turned away over excessive body art. The British military as a whole has missed recruitment targets every year since 2010, according to the Ministry of Defense.

Chief of the General Staff Patrick Sanders acknowledged last month that the armed forces are “too small” to prevail in war, with just 184,000 regular troops and volunteers. In December, the military reported its lowest number of active-duty personnel since the Napoleonic wars of 1815. 

While The Telegraph reported that the downsizing underway was the result of a 2021 directive to streamline and modernize the British armed forces, veteran and MP Richard Foord blamed substandard troop housing, while Defense Secretary Grant Shapps pointed to a “ridiculous” ban on growing beards.

Recruitment for the Army had only reached half its target for April to March as of last month, despite the Army renewing its contract with recruitment firm Capita to bring in new soldiers and officers. Even the professional headhunters were unable to meet their total of 9,813 recruits for 2023-2024, only attracting about 5,000 since last April. 

Capita managing director Richard Holroyd recently complained to the Defense Select Committee that potential recruits were forced to wait 150 days to join due to onerous medical requirements disqualifying individuals with asthma, dental issues, dermatitis, and other minor conditions, while those with tattoos must submit photographs for review by a military judgment panel.