Civil service pay

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Average salaries vary considerably across Whitehall departments, with the highest average salary (DfID, £51,660) more than £27,000 above the lowest (HMRC, £24,030). This largely reflects the grade balance in different departments.

There has been a decrease in median earnings at the Cabinet Office in the last year. This is partially due to the transferring of responsibility for two units – the Fast Stream and Civil Service Resourcing – over to CO from HMRC.  

Across the whole civil service, the majority of staff (64%) are paid below £30,000 – with nearly a fifth of civil servants (19%) paid under £20,000. This is partly due to the size of the big delivery departments, where average pay is lower, which shape the pay profile of the whole civil service. At DWP, for example, 87% of civil servants earn under £30,000, and at HMRC just over 72% are below this threshold. These departments tend to employ more people outside London than policy-focused departments like DExEU and DfID.

Civil servants earning over £80,000 a year make up less than 1% of the total workforce. In stark contrast to DWP, over 86% of the workforce at BEIS earns over £30,000. Similarly at DfID and DCMS – both London-based, policy-focused departments – over 85% earn over £30,000. At DCMS, nearly 5% earn above £80,000. Again, these variations reflect the extent to which the different functions of departments, and the grades of civil servants they employ, influence their pay profiles.

Who sets civil service pay?

The pay of civil servants is ultimately the responsibility of HM Treasury, which annually issues guidance on pay, including to government departments. Within this framework, departments are able to set their own pay policy. Bonuses (known as non-consolidated performance payments) are awarded annually to staff based on their performance at an individual, team or organisational level.

Civil servants are paid similar amounts to people working in other areas of the public sector. At the end of March 2018, median pay across the whole civil service was £26,610. For Senior Civil Servants it was £81,490, and for Administrative Officers, £19,980.

In 2017–18, police officers in England and Wales were paid between £19,971 (junior constables) and £85,614 (senior chief superintendents). Classroom teachers were paid between £22,917 and £67,305, depending on seniority and location.

Following the removal of the public sector pay cap in July 2018, some civil servants are set to benefit from pay rises of around 1%, although employees in other areas of the public sector will see their salaries increase by as much as 3.5%.

How does pay vary by civil service grade?

Pay at each civil service grade varies between departments.

  • The biggest range of median salaries at any grade occurs among the Senior Civil Service (SCS), where average pay varies between £69,620 at FCO and £90,500 at CO.
  • Median pay for Senior Executive Officer/Higher Executive Officer grades varies by over £8000, from £36,880 at DfT to £28,500 at the Treasury
  • HMRC has the lowest-paid Executive Officers (£24,030), while DfID has the highest-paid (£29,080)

This reflects the grade balance of different departments: those whose work is more focused on policy than on operations, such as DfID and BEIS (£43,430), tend to have higher proportions of staff at higher grades, pushing average pay up. By contrast, big delivery-focused departments, like DWP (£24,480) and HMRC, employ more staff at more junior grades.

Perhaps most striking of all is the variation in median pay across departments. Median earnings of DfID officials stand at £51,660, a full £27,630 more than that at HMRC, where the average salary is £24,030.

Who are the highest-paid civil servants?

Departments may pay higher salaries to some civil servants and other officials in order to recruit people with specialist skills – for example, in commercial activities. The Cabinet Office publishes annual data on these high earners – those on over £150,000 a year (roughly the salary of the Prime Minister).

As of September 2018 – the most recent period for which we have data – 489 senior civil servants and officials in departments, agencies, non-departmental public bodies were classed as high earners. These staff make up only a small part of the whole civil service, however, with most civil servants and officials earning considerably below £150,000.

  • DfT had 162 high earners. 71 worked for Network Rail, and 55 at HS2 Ltd. Of the 162, just over half (84) were employed in roles categorised by the Cabinet Office as “commercial enterprise in the public sector”.
  • DHSC (110) and CO (53) had the second and third highest number of high earners. In DHSC, most of these were split across agencies and non-departmental public bodies such as NHS England (41), Public Health England (23) and NHS Improvement (16). High earners at CO occupy a number of roles that require specialist skills and experience: from parliamentary counsel to commercial and infrastructure specialists.

How satisfied are civil servants with their pay?

The annual Civil Service People Survey asks whether civil servants are satisfied with the pay and benefits they receive. In 2018, the average satisfaction across all civil service organisations was 31% – up one percentage point on 2017.

But satisfaction with pay doesn't necessarily correlate to pay levels. The low satisfaction for DIT shows that pay and benefits aren’t the only explanation of staff morale.

Update date: 
Wednesday, May 1, 2019