Age of the civil service

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The civil service is older in 2018 than it was in 2010. The median age has risen from 44 to 46 in that time. In 2010, there were more civil servants aged 46 than any other age; in 2018, there are more aged 53 as that group has aged.

More civil servants are in the 50–59 year old age band than in any other, and this has increased since 2010. 41% of all civil servants were aged over 50 in 2017, up from 32% in 2010.

But in recent years, the ageing process has started to be reversed. The median age has fallen from 47 in 2015 and 2016. The percentage of civil servants aged under 30, which fell from 14% in 2010 to a low of 9% in 2014 (largely due to recruitment freezes as civil service staff numbers were cut), is climbing again. The 40–49 age group has been squeezed, falling from making up a third of the civil service in 2010, to a quarter in 2018.

Why does the age of civil servants matter?

The age of the civil service – or different government departments within it – can have consequences for areas including skills, experience and staff turnover.

Ageing workforces:

  • may not be bringing in new skills, such as digital skills (in 2015, the National Audit Office found “the creation of a generational gap potentially heightens the risk that the civil service will not have the talent and skills needed for future challenges”)
  • risk losing knowledge and expertise as civil servants retire.

The perils of a youthful workforce include:

  • a lack of experience (the White Review into how the Treasury dealt with the 2007 financial crisis found “The vast majority of officials would have had no experience of a period of economic turbulence or bank failure”)
  • higher turnover (the Institute for Government’s Better Budgets report, with the Chartered Institute of Taxation and the Institute for Fiscal Studies, argued that “outsiders often have to deal with people at more junior levels who have been in post for only a short time”).

How does age vary between departments?

Big delivery departments – the Ministry of Defence (MoD), Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC), the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and the Home Office (HO) – have older workforces; more than a third of their staff are aged over 50, approaching nearly half at MoD and DWP. These departments are also getting older.

Policy-focused departments – the Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU), Treasury (HMT), Cabinet Office (CO) and Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) – are young and getting younger: 77% of Treasury civil servants and 84% of permanent DExEU civil servants are under the age of 40.

Cabinet Office has a younger age profile this year since it has taken responsibility for the Fast Stream, while DExEU and the Department for International Trade (DIT) have become younger since 2017 as the relatively new departments staff up, especially at more junior levels.

Given they are the five biggest departments, the age profiles of MoD, DWP, HMRC, MoJ and HO drive the age profile of the civil service as a whole.

Understandably, therefore, their median ages are close to that of the civil service as a whole. DExEU (30), HMT (31) and the Cabinet Office (32) have the lowest median ages; they are joined by DCMS, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), Department for International Development (DfID) and DIT in having median ages under 40.

How does age change with seniority?

The senior civil service (SCS) is the oldest grade bracket: almost half are aged over 50. The median age of senior civil servants is 49, two years higher than the next highest (executive officer). There are more under 40s at administrative officer/administrative assistant (AO/AA) level than any other. The 40-49 age band has been squeezed at every level except SCS since 2010, but especially at EO and senior executive officer/higher executive officer (SEO/HEO).

The big delivery departments are older at more senior grades: more than half of senior civil servants at MoD, HMRC and DWP are over the age of 50. Largely speaking, the percentage under 30 declines with every step up in seniority.

By contrast, more than half of all senior civil servants at DExEU and the Treasury are under the age of 40, and the percentage is even higher at Grades 6 and 7, the next grade band down. According to the Office for National Statistic (ONS) numbers, there are no permanent senior civil servants or grades 6 and 7 over the age of 60 at DExEU – the only department where this is the case.

Update date: 
Thursday, August 9, 2018