Troop cuts should be halted to help the armed forces cope with increased demands on them to respond to emergencies in the UK, Labour has said.
Requests to bring in the armed forces to assist civic authorities more than doubled during the pandemic, Ministry of Defence figures show.
In the years before the Covid-19 pandemic hit, the number of Military Aid to the Civil Authorities (MACA) requests – where the Government or public bodies ask the armed forces for support – rose steadily from 123 in 2016 to 157 in 2019.
But the MoD said it received 550 requests in 2020.
The number dropped in 2021 but remained well above recent years with 332 requests.
By May 26 this year, 76 requests had been made.
Not all requests are granted, and the percentage of requests executed has also been dropping, according to MoD figures, from 93% in 2016 and declining year-on-year to 55% last year and 41% this year.
The figures were provided by defence minister James Heappey in response to a written parliamentary question from Labour’s shadow defence secretary John Healey.
Civilian authorities such as councils or Government departments can request support from the Army for a range of issues including natural disasters such as extreme flooding, security issues, and public health emergencies such as the Covid-19 pandemic.
The MoD has said about 34,000 service personnel were deployed to support the UK’s pandemic response. Armed forces personnel were deployed to help vaccinate, support hospitals and ambulance services, assist with testing, construct Nightingale hospitals and distribute PPE.
The Government set out plans last year to reduce the size of the regular Army, lowering the target size from 82,000 personnel to 72,500 by 2025. When the announcement was made in March 2021, the Army had around 76,500 regular soldiers.
Mr Healey said: “Our armed forces are essential to our national resilience, as well as our national defence, as we’ve seen during the Covid pandemic.
“But Conservative ministers have cut the British Army to its smallest size in 300 years, and they are still pushing ahead with further cuts of 10,000 troops over the next three years.
“With demands increasing at home and threats increasing abroad, ministers must halt these cuts now.”
A Ministry of Defence spokesperson said: “The Army provided an unprecedented level of support to communities during the pandemic and continues to have the numbers and equipment to fulfil its overseas and UK commitments.
“We regularly review our capabilities to ensure they meet current and future threats and are investing an extra £24 billion in defence – the biggest investment in the UK’s armed forces since the end of the Cold War – which will provide the British Army with new tanks, armoured vehicles and attack helicopters.
“Under our plans, the Army will have a whole force of over 100,000 personnel, consisting of regulars and reserves, ready to fight the wars of the future.”