Pandemic pressures push civil service headcount higher, ONS reports

Quarterly figures show staff numbers grew by 3,600 between March and June, with Department for Work and Pensions posting biggest rise

By Jim Dunton

16 Sep 2020

Civil service headcount grew by 3,600 between March and June this year as departments mobilised to deal with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The growth in numbers builds on the six-year high marked in March and takes overall UK civil service numbers to 459,240 when permanent, temporary and casual staff are included, according to the Office for National Statistics.

The ONS said the headcount increase represented a rise of 0.7% over the three months, or a year-on-year rise of 2.5% and that the Department for Work and Pensions’ efforts to deal with the economic jolt dealt by Covid-19 in the spring had been a clear driver.

“Employment in the Department for Work and Pensions increased by 1,150 to meet demand for Universal Credit during the coronavirus pandemic,” the ONS said.

The data showed DWP increased its permanent headcount by 750 to 75,950 over the quarter, and also added around 400 casual or temporary staff.

In March and April DWP faced a surge in welfare claims as firms went into lockdown and workers not eligible for the government’s furlough scheme or other aid packages saw their income cut off at short notice.

During the last two weeks of March, DWP received 950,000 claims for Universal Credit – around seven times more than would have been expected under normal circumstances.

Elsewhere, the ONS figures showed the Ministry of Justice added 610 permanent staff to its ranks, taking the total to 79,950, an increase of 0.8%, and an additional 90 temporary or casual staff. The Cabinet Office increased its headcount by 380 – or 4.8% – to 8,230.

HM Land Registry increased its permanent headcount by 240 to 5,990 (4.2%) and the Department for International Trade increased its permanent headcount by 160 to 2,470 (7.4%). 

Despite the boost in overall civil service numbers the latest figures represent, they show staffing reductions in some departments.

HM Revenue and Customs saw its permanent headcount contract by 270 over the March-June quarter, dropping 0.04% to 66,920. A further 10 temporary or casual staff disappeared from its departmental ranks.

Staff numbers at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs fell by 80 to 9,980 over the period and its non-permanent headcount reduced by 10.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office, as it was then known, saw its permanent headcount reduced by 70 to 6,360. Ten temporary staff were added to its books, however.

According to the ONS figures, the UK civil service had 6,890 temporary or casual workers as of June, an increase of 410 from the quarter ending in March. 

DWP had the largest temporary headcount –  1,660, followed by the Ministry of Justice on 1,200 and the Home Office on 1,050. 

According to the ONS, the Home Office reduced its temporary staff headcount by 160 over the quarter, but its permanent headcount increased by 110. 

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