Lord Ashcroft has today published the biggest ever independent survey of the British Armed Forces. The research, which includes a poll of over 9,000 serving personnel and focus groups with members of the Army, RAF, Royal Navy and Royal Marines, explores how those in the Forces think they are seen by people in Britain, their experiences of wearing uniform in public, and what problems they experience as a result of their service.

At a time when thousands of Service personnel face redundancy, the study also reveals how they see their career prospects once they leave the Forces.

Though Lord Ashcroft's report is independent, the research was conducted with the permission of General Sir David Richards, Chief of the Defence Staff, and with organisational help from the Ministry of Defence.

The General has welcomed the report, as has Defence Secretary Philip Hammond.

The Armed Forces & Society: The military in Britain through the eyes of Service personnel, employers and the public, explores the relationship between the Forces and wider society, and asks what more could be done to ensure that those who serve in the military are properly recognised. The study also includes research among former Service personnel, the general public, and employers in small and medium-sized businesses. For comparison, research was also conducted among members of the US Armed Services and the American public.

Key findings from the research include:

The public rated the Forces very highly, and personnel felt public support has increased in recent years. However, some officers feared that the relationship with the public could deteriorate as current high-profile missions come to an end.

More than half of Service personnel had experienced strangers offering thanks and support in the last five years - but more than one in five said they had had strangers shouting abuse. Nearly one in twenty had experienced violence or attempted violence in the UK.

A quarter of personnel said they had spontaneously been offered discounts.Two thirds of the American public said they had personally thanked a member of the Forces or could see themselves doing so. This compared to just over a quarter in Britain.

Nearly two thirds of the public said there was too little recognition for the Armed Forces in British society.Nearly three quarters of UK personnel serving oversees said they had experienced companies refusing to send goods to BFPO addresses.

More than a quarter of personnel said they had been refused a mortgage, loan or credit card in the last five years, and one in five had had trouble getting a mobile phone contract. Personnel often said that their unavoidable frequent changes of address counted against them in credit checks.

Finding a good job was the biggest concern among Service personnel about leaving the Forces. More than half feared that employers would not understand what they had done in the military and so would not give them a chance. Despite their experience, more junior personnel often feared they would be starting their careers from scratch.Despite a generally positive view of Forces personnel and their attributes, a quarter of employers thought non-officers were unlikely to have people management skills.In his report, Lord Ashcroft calls for:

Greater willingness among the public to thank those in uniform for their service. Wider availability of discounts for current and former Service personnel.Businesses to ensure that they deliver to BFPO addresses and do not charge over the odds for doing do.Companies to recognise that for Service personnel, frequent changes of address are part of the job and do not necessarily mean they are a bad credit risk.

More employers to consider actively recruiting those leaving the Forces, and to think about the skills and experience that middle and junior ranking personnel, as well as officers, will have to offer.Lord Ashcroft said:

"Since 2001 our Armed Forces have been in the public eye to a greater degree than at any time since the Second World War. As we mark the 30th anniversary of the Falklands conflict, and thousands of Service personnel face the prospect of redundancy, it is an appropriate time to take stock of our relationship with our Armed Forces and the men and women who serve.

"I hope this study will prompt people to think about whether our Forces get the recognition they deserve, and what more we can do to show personnel that they are appreciated - whether through discounts, making sure they are not disadvantaged in everyday life, or though a simple word of thanks. I also hope more employers will recognise that former personnel, even at quite junior levels, often have experience of leading and thinking on their feet that their civilian contemporaries would find hard to match.

"I am very grateful to General Sir David Richards for allowing this research to take place."

General Sir David Richards, Chief of the Defence Staff, said:

"The men and women of our Armed Forces reflect what is best in our society. They are the finest of their generation. They deserve respect and support from the British public. So it's great to see that the vast majority of personnel get this recognition and are even thanked by strangers. This report has made a valuable contribution to our understanding of what members of the Forces and the public think of each other."

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said:

"We have worked hard to ensure our Armed Forces, veterans and their families have the support they need and are treated with the dignity they deserve. That is why we committed to rebuilding the Armed Forces Covenant and its principles are now enshrined in law, and we have made great progress over the last year with practical improvements to service life. This helpful report shows there is still more we can do and I want to thank Lord Ashcroft for his work."