Some campaigners have encouraged the belief that pre-1975 early leavers from the armed forces were not only treated badly, but treated much worse than their contemporaries in other employments, particularly those in the civil service.

The theory seems to be that, unlike their counterparts in the armed forces, pre-1975 civil service "early leavers" were retrospectively allowed to qualify for preserved pensions, which came in after they had already left the service.

A variation on that theory is that if pre-1975 civil service early leavers didn't qualify for preserved pensions either, at least they hadn't suffered the same injustice as their armed forces counterparts, because civil service pay (supposedly) took no account of the employer's pension expenditure.

What are the facts on this?

The MoD's "Pre-AFPS 75 Factsheet" contends that armed forces personnel who left before the introduction of preserved pensions were, in fact, treated no differently from their counterparts in other Government employments:

Claims are sometimes made that the Armed Forces are treated less favourably in respect of preserved pensions than other members of public sector pension schemes. This is not correct. For example, to qualify for a pension under the Civil Service arrangements, an individual had to be over age 50 and have served for ten or more years. Those who left voluntarily before meeting these criteria lost rights to pensions.

That's supported by a briefing note on "Civil service pensions - Reforms to 2010" from the House of Commons Library, which is independent of HM Government:

Preserved pensions  The contentious points with regards to preserved pensions surround the status of civil servants who resigned from their post before the age of 50, pre-1975. At that time, individuals generally had no statutory rights to preserved benefits, or to receive back the contributions that they had paid into an occupational pension scheme. In practice many schemes did give members a right to a refund of their contributions but in many non-contributory schemes, such as the PCSPS [Principal Civil Service Pension Scheme] and some private schemes, early leavers ended up with nothing. The Social Security Act 1973 introduced for the first time, for those who left after April 1975, a right to a deferred pension.

The briefing note continues, and this couldn't be clearer:

As with the other improvements to the scheme in the 1970s, the preserved pension rules were not applied retrospectively to people who had already left the civil service. So service before 1975 does not ‘count’ for civil servants who resigned before that date, even if they later rejoined the service.

It wasn't just the civil service and the armed forces who were treated in this way. According to a BBC News story in 2002, a Pensions Advisory Service expert, reacting to the original campaign about pre-AFPS 75 forces leavers, mentioned

... even worse pension losses than those experienced by ex-military staff, whose companies had their own pre-1975 pension rules. At the General Post Office for example, staff had to work for at least 10 years and until the age of 50 to keep their pension rights - so someone who started at 21 years old, worked for 28 years and left aged 50, would have got nothing.

Campaigners rightly point out that armed forces pay is "abated" (reduced) to account for pension expenditure by the employer. But the same applies, in principle, to any employment where at least part of an occupational pension is funded by the employer, in other words where the pension is wholly or partly "non-contributory".

According to a 2010 briefing for the Public Service Pensioners' Council and the Civil Service Pensioners' Alliance:

Most public service pensions are contributory but others such as the Principal Civil Service Pension Scheme (PCSPS) are non‐contributory, aside from between 1.5%‐3.5% compulsory employee contributions for additional family benefits. However, civil service salaries are effectively reduced by about 6 per cent in comparison with similar outside employments, to account for the non‐contributory aspect.

A 6 per cent deduction from civil service pay was also mentioned in a House of Lords Ministerial Answer in November 1975.

The Minister for Defence People and Veterans, Johnny Mercer MP, stated in a parliamentary written answer on 21 October 2019 that

... the issue of pre-1975 pensions is common to all contemporary public service schemes.

Comment:  Persistent factual inaccuracies won't have helped the credibility of the core pre-1975 service pensions campaign, even though some campaigners never made misleading claims. If comparisons were to be made between pre-1975 armed forces personnel and those in other occupations, it might have been better to point to the contrasting risks, hardships and conditions of service and the fact that servicemen and women were subject to military discipline and had no rights such as collective representation.