Making Defence more inclusive with updated terminology and language

family inclusive language

Making Defence more inclusive with updated terminology and language

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

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

Listening to Armed Forces families

Last year, in a series of focus group sessions with Forces families organised by Defence, 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. 

Implementing changes

Defence are replacing the offensive terms mentioned in 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, alternatives will be considered as how best to reflect Defence’s commitment to using inclusive language.

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. Defence will continue to think about the language that is used and the unintended impact that it can have on Service families. Defence will continue to engage with Service families and use your 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.

Photo credit: UK MOD © Crown copyright 2021
Posted on: 14th August, 2023