Civil service’s national diversity hides local differences

Welsh Government sets targets to recruit more disabled staff, while defence organisations in south-west England have low proportions of female and gay employees
Map of the UK. Source: Alamy

By SA Mathieson

22 Nov 2021

The UK’s 485,000 civil servants increasingly reflect the country they serve, at least in terms of sex, disability status and sexual orientation, according the civil service’s annual employment survey. But an analysis of data on regions, nations and large organisations shows there are outliers, with some employers taking specific measures to improve staff diversity as a result.

A national analysis published by the Cabinet Office in July found that 54.2% of civil servants are women, compared with 49.7% of all British employees  according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The proportion of women at SCS level has risen from just 34.7% in 2011 to 46.7% this year. Nationally, 13.6% of civil servants declared themselves as disabled, up from 7.7% in 2011, although this is slightly below the 14.7% of the economically active working age population who are disabled.

Among the two-thirds of civil servants who disclosed their sexual orientation, 5.6% said they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or other (LGBO) than heterosexual, including 6.5% of those at SCS grades. The latest ONS data on sexual orientation for 2019 found that 4% of those aged between 16 and 64 and who provided an answer said they are LGBO.

There are significant differences within these national averages. Among organisations employing more than 5,000 people the Welsh Government has the lowest proportion who consider themselves disabled, which at 6.2% is less than half the civil service average. It has set targets that at least 20% of appointees by 2026 will be disabled people, rising to 30% by 2030, with measures including guaranteed interviewees for those with disabilities who meet minimum standards; targeted outreach work; and removing barriers to recruitment.

“We’re fully committed to increasing the number of disabled people in our organisation and know there is much to do,” said a spokesperson for the Welsh Government’s permanent secretary. “Becoming a more diverse organisation will give us a wider perspective and a richer skill set which can help shape and deliver policy development in Wales.”

In Northern Ireland 46% of civil servants are women, although at 3,800 staff it is relatively small. This is not true of south-west England, which has the second-lowest proportion with 47.4% of its 45,200 civil servants being women. The region includes 8,700 staff working for the Ministry of Defence’s Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S) agency, where 36.5% of staff are women, and 8,400 core MoD staff, which is 43.7% female. Data published on the south-west shows that 3% of MoD staff and 3.5% of DE&S staff in the region say they are LGBO, both well below the civil service average.

“Defence is at its best when it is diverse,” said a spokesperson for the ministry. “The MoD continues to work hard to broaden the diversity of our workforce through actively engaging with our employees to drive an inclusive culture at work, attract the best talent and better reflect the society we serve.” Work on this includes a reverse mentoring programme connecting senior managers with junior colleagues from diverse backgrounds, changes to language and images in recruitment advertising, policy and process reviews and engagement with employee networks and external groups.

The survey found that 14.3% of civil servants are from an ethnic minority background, compared with 13.6% of the UK’s working age population. Proportions vary widely by region, from 1.2% in Northern Ireland and 3.2% in Scotland to 23.4% in the West Midlands and 35.3% in London, broadly reflecting local populations. Among organisations employing at least 5,000 staff the proportion from ethnic minority backgrounds ranges from 24.2% of Ministry of Justice employees to 2.1% of Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency staff, with the latter based in Wales where 3.8% of all civil servants are from an ethnic minority background.

Among major employers, HM Courts and Tribunals Service employs the highest proportion of women, 70.7%, followed by Public Health England (69.4%), the Crown Prosecution Service (66.5%) and the Department for Work and Pensions (65.5%). The Ministry of Justice has the highest proportion of civil servants with a disability at 24.2%, followed by the Home Office (23.7%) and Public Health England (23.6%).

Among nations and regions, north-east England has the highest proportion of women among its civil servants, 59%, while the north-west, West Midlands and Wales all have more than 57%. The East Midlands is the region with the highest proportion who say they are disabled at 15.8%, with London the lowest at 12%.

Regional workforces are increasingly important to the civil service, with 60% of jobs already based outside southern England, the government committing to move half of SCS roles out of London and hub offices in cities including Darlington, Leeds, Glasgow and Wolverhampton.

“The civil service employs people from every corner of the UK and we are committed to creating a diverse and inclusive workforce from all backgrounds that reflects the people we serve,” said a government spokesperson. “With civil service roles moving out of London as we level up across the country, we’re increasing opportunities for our existing staff of all backgrounds to develop their careers, while also drawing on a new and diverse talent pool.”

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