12 April 2017

The civil service is older than it used to be – and Gavin Freeguard says that while the big delivery departments face the problems of old age, others (notably the Treasury) face the perils of youth.

The civil service is older than in 2010, with a greater percentage of staff in older age groups.

Civil service age 2010-2016

In 2016, 40% of the civil service was over 50 years old, up from 32% in 2010. Only 10% of civil servants are aged under 30, down from 14% in 2010. This ageing process is probably due to recruitment freezes and could have an impact on recruiting vital skills coming into the civil service (for example, digital, as noted by the National Audit Office).

Big delivery departments, like MoD, DWP and HMRC, are getting even older.

Civil service age bands 2010 to 2016

The percentage of staff over the age of 50 has risen by 9 percentage points at MoD, 15 at DWP and 10 at HMRC. The size of these departments, plus MoJ and the Home Office, largely explains the ageing of the civil service as a whole.

Some departments – particularly the Treasury – are much younger than others.

Civil service age profile 2016

According to data published by the Office for National Statistic at our request, the age distribution of the whole civil service – a small peak in the mid-30s, but the largest peak building to the early 50s – reflects the age profile of those big delivery departments.

But the departments with younger workforces jump out: more than half of civil servants are aged under 40 in DCMS, DECC, Cabinet Office and the Treasury.

Civil service median age 2016

The Treasury has a median age of just 32, with the Cabinet Office (37), DECC (as was, 38) and DCMS (38) the only other departments with median ages under 40. Younger departments have become even younger since 2010.

The Institute’s joint report with the Chartered Institute of Taxation and the Institute for Fiscal Studies on Better Budgets argues that the younger age and higher turnover mean “outsiders often have to deal with people at more junior levels who have been in post for only a short time”.

Those concerns have been echoed more recently by the Kerslake Review of the Treasury (commissioned by the Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell).

The youngest departments also have some of the youngest senior civil services.

Senior civil service age

It is testament to the youth of the Treasury that their senior civil service is also the youngest of any department: half of HMT senior civil servants are under the age of 40, followed by 44% at DCLG, 40% at DCMS and 38% at the Cabinet Office.

Only 15% of the whole SCS is under the age of 40, with nearly half (49%) aged 50 or over. Half of the SCS is aged 50 or over at HMRC, MoD, Defra, MoJ, DfID, DWP and DH.

Departments differ in their age profiles – older departments may need to bring in new skills and younger ones mitigate the effect of progression and turnover – but all have to face the big challenges of their age.


I was told in 2016 that 50% of Cabinet Office staff was under the age of 30. So glad to have that impression corrected by your graph, which incidentally resembles a coffin.