Disability in the civil service

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Why is it important that the disabled population is represented in the civil service?

Diversity and inclusion is important because a more diverse civil service leads to better decisions and a better delivery of public services. According to the 2017 Civil Service Diversity and Inclusion Strategy, “When people from diverse backgrounds are involved in creating the public services we all rely on, we get better services that work for everyone.” This strategy, published in October 2017, outlines a number of steps to ensure that the civil service is “the most inclusive employer in the UK”.

The balance between disabled and non-disabled civil servants is improving — but more needs to be done in terms of hiring practices, talent retention, and job satisfaction.

Philip Rutnam, Permanent Secretary for the Home Office (HO) and the civil service disability champion, has set out his personal objectives, including to “nurture and bring on talented employees” so that disabled civil servants can achieve their potential in Whitehall.

What is the balance of disabled and non-disabled civil servants?

As of 2018, 10% of civil servants who declare their disability status are disabled, up significantly from 1.3% in 1988. This improvement is welcome, but more needs to be done to ensure that talented individuals living with disabilities are hired and retained by Whitehall. This is especially true for the senior civil service, where those with disabilities make up only 5.4% of the workforce.

How does this vary by civil service grade?

The percentage of disabled civil servants (where known) has increased at every grade since 2010. The most junior grade, administrative officers and assistants (AO/AA), maintains the best balance, with 10.6% of civil servants identifying as disabled.

The proportion of disabled civil servants is lower at the higest levels. At the most senior level, SCS, there has been relatively little improvement — the proportion of disabled civil servants has increased only slightly between 2010 (4.8%) and 2018 (5.4%).

For over 30% of the civil service there is no data on the disability status of individual civil servants. While individuals may have good reasons not to share their disability status, this data is important in determining the true balance of the civil service. Understanding how the balance varies by grade and department helps identify the factors which stop disabled civil servants from being promoted to senior positions.

How does this vary by department?

For all departments there is a lower percentage of disabled civil servants in the SCS than in the department as a whole in 2018. Despite having the fourth highest proportion of disabled civil servants for the whole department (13.8%), only 5.2% of the senior civil service in HMRC are disabled. There are also big disparities between the senior civil service and the wider workforce at DfID, Defra and DfT. The only department that has no disabled senior civil servants is DExEU.

Between 2010 and 2018, eight departments narrowed the gap between the percentage of disabled employees in the SCS and the whole department: HMRC, Defra, DfT, FCO, MoD, DfE, DWP and MoJ. On the other hand, for six departments this gap increased. At the FCO, the large fall from 24% to just 8.5% is largely due to a higher reporting rate among senior civil servants (increasing from 11% in 2010 to 71% in 2018).

For most departments, the worst balance between disabled and non-disabled civil servants occurs in the SCS.  Three departments (MoD, DWP and MoJ) have the worst balance at Grades 6&7, two at Executive Officer level (BEIS and Defra), and two at Administrative Officer / Assistant level (DHSC and DExEU.)

Reporting rates are not consistent between departments – some report much more data on disability than others. DExEU has the lowest reporting rate in 2018, with data on disability reported for only 34.3% of civil servants. HO report the highest percentage of data on disability (90.6%).

What is the difference between civil service morale for disabled and non-disabled civil servants?

The Civil Service People Survey, in which 302,170 civil servants answered more than 60 questions during October 2018, is a key indicator of organisational health. A higher engagement score indicates higher satisfaction.

For every theme in the survey, employees with a long-term limiting condition, illness or disability are less satisfied than their non-disabled colleagues.

The biggest differences are on issues of ‘inclusion and fair treatment’ (12 percentage points), ‘learning and development’ (10 percentage points), and 'leadership and managing change' (10 percentage points).

Both disabled and non-disabled civil servants are most satisfied about ‘my team’ and least satisfied about ‘pay and benefits’.

What steps are being taken to help disabled civil servants?

A number of initiatives have been launched to increase the number of disabled civil servants, and also to improve the experience of existing disabled employees.

These measures are welcome. Together with others steps set out in the Diversity and Inclusion Strategy, such as new departmental targets due to be released in April 2018, they should help make the civil service more balanced. The Government has set the targets — and now they must be held to account in achieving them.


With the exception of the Civil Service People Survey data (final chart), all of the data above comes from Office for National Statistics (ONS) Annual Civil Service Employment Survey (ACSES), but the departmental-level data is based on unrounded versions kindly provided by the Cabinet Office. The Cabinet Office has a narrower definition of the senior civil service: the ONS reports as “senior civil service” certain roles – such as health professionals, military personnel and senior diplomats – which the Cabinet Office does not consider to be part of the actual senior civil service.

Update date: 
Wednesday, May 1, 2019