British public's confidence in civil service drops – but is still much higher than government and parliament

Britons are twice as likely to say they have confidence in the civil service than the government or parliament
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By Tevye Markson

30 Mar 2023

The British public’s confidence in civil servants has dropped but is still far higher than its faith in government, parliament and political parties, according to a survey published today.

However, Brits’ confidence in the civil service still lags behind many countries, the King’s College London survey has found.

The percentage of people in Great Britain surveyed who said they have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in the civil service has dropped from 53% in 2018 to 49% in 2022.

Meanwhile, the government received a confidence rate of just 24%, the worst rating since 2009, while parliament’s score of 23% is equal to its 2009 historic low rating.

This means, in 2022, Britons were more than twice as likely to say they have confidence in the civil service than the government or parliament. There is even lower confidence in political parties (13%).

The civil service’s 49% confidence rating is the same as in 1981, when the university started the survey. Confidence in the civil service dropped gradually and consistently over the following decades, culminating in a historic low of 40% in 2009 before then rebounding and reaching a 53% historic high in 2019.

But the UK civil service still ranks among the bottom half of countries on this measure, coming in at 14th out of the 24 countries surveyed. Norway (70%), Sweden (63%) and Germany (62%) lead the pack among western nations, while the UK is more on a par with Australia (49%) and Spain (47%).

The government’s score of 24% is also in the bottom of half, in 17th place. Only Poland and Brazil (both 22%) Spain (23%), Morocco (21%) , Mexico (17%) and Greece (13%) are below.

Similarly, parliament’s 23% confidence rating places it in 16th place with political parties also ranking 16th among the 24 countries.

Professor Bobby Duffy, director of the Policy Institute at King’s College London, said: “The UK has long prided itself on the strength of its institutions – but the British public are not as convinced as they once were, and we are now more negative than many other countries.

“Confidence in parliament has halved since 1990; we’re among the least likely of more than 20 countries in the study to have confidence in the government; confidence in the police has fallen sharply, particularly in London; and only Egypt has less trust in their press.”

“Some institutions fare better, with our courts system relatively highly rated, and the civil service coming out much better than our political institutions.”

EU gets post-Brexit confidence boost

Confidence in the European Union is also on the up. While confidence has fallen in the civil service, government, parliament and political parties, Brits are increasingly positive about the European Union post-Brexit.

The British public’s confidence in the EU (39%) is now much higher than in parliament and government, having risen consistently since it fell to a low of 20% in 2009. It is still below its peak in 1990 (47%), however, when KCL first surveyed Brits on their confidence in the institution.

The UK public was also much more likely to say it is disappointed (49%) to have left the EU than happy (24%), particularly in Scotland (59%) and Northern Ireland (54%).

Duffy said the UK institutions need to “work hard and quickly to shore up public confidence”.

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