Civil Service People Survey: Satisfaction with pay falls to 14-year low

Pride and happiness with leadership also drop significantly in annual staff-sentiment poll
Unions march to Westminster on budget day over pay concerns. Photo: Martin Dalton/Alamy

By Tevye Markson

31 Mar 2023

Satisfaction with pay has fallen to its lowest level since the Civil Service People Survey began 14 years ago, according to the latest poll of officials.

The 2022 People Survey results, released yesterday, show that just 27% of civil servants feel their pay adequately reflects their performance, compared to 38% in 2021. It is the lowest score in the category since the survey began in 2009. The 29% satisfaction score in 2019 was the next worst.

Similarly, overall satisfaction with pay and benefits has dropped from 39% to 28%.

Happiness with leadership has also tumbled and the poll’s benchmark employee-engagement index has dropped from 66% to 65%, including a fall in pride.

The survey was conducted in September and October, as the cost-of-living crisis intensified and inflation soared to 10%. It followed controversially low pay awards of 2-3% for most civil servants in 2022-23.

A month after the survey finished, civil service union PCS announced officials had voted to strike over low pay and other concerns, which has resulted in months of walkouts by tens of thousands of civil servants.

In December, cabinet secretary Simon Case acknowledged civil servants’ concerns over pay and other issues in the 2022 People Survey. In an internal memo he said he would work with ministers and unions to improve pay as a "priority". Since then, ministers have refused to renegotiate the 2022-23 pay deal and have not offered any extra money to civil servants despite making offers to other public sector workers leading to strike-ending agreements.

Amy Leversidge, deputy general secretary of the FDA union, said the fall in pay satisfaction "was entirely predictable" as civil service pay has dropped in value between 12-23% since 2010.

“Civil servants have seen pay restraint and frozen pay progression for over a decade now. The cost of living crisis is having an immediate impact on civil servants but the reality is that the whole pay structures and systems in the civil service are dysfunctional and broken," she said.

“We need the government to listen to what civil servants are telling them and engage with the FDA and other unions to find solutions. The UK civil service needs to retain its talented, skilled and hardworking staff delivering the public services that we all rely on.”

A government spokesperson said: "Public sector pay awards strike a careful balance between recognising the vital importance of public sector workers, whilst delivering value for the taxpayer, not increasing the country’s debt further and being careful not to drive even higher prices in the future."

Which departments are most unhappy about pay?

Civil servants in the Government Legal Department were, like last year, the most dissatisfied with their salary, with just 10% saying their pay reflected their performance, compared to 15% in 2021. The survey took place, however, before the department’s offer of a two-year 16% pay rise for junior and senior lawyers last month.

Of the major departments, HM Treasury staff were least happy with their pay, with just 20% satisfied. They were followed by officials at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, whose figure was slightly higher but still recorded at 20% after rounding.

Ministry of Justice staff (excluding agencies) – who got a three-year 9.9% pay rise in 2021 – were most satisfied (38%) but down on 2021’s 46% rate of happiness.

Coming in just behind, HM Revenue and Customs – whose staff also got a three-year pay rise in 2021 – were second most happy, with 26% positive about pay. But this was also way down on the 49% rate in 2021.

Happiness with leadership drops in year of change

Alongside pay anger, civil servants expressed dissatisfaction with leadership in the survey following a year of turbulence that saw two prime ministers quit, a host of cabinet reshuffles and the Treasury’s permanent secretary sacked.

Just 55% of respondents to the poll said they believe their organisation's senior leaders have a clear vision for the future compared to 60% in 2021.

There were similar drops in the proportion of officials who have confidence in the decisions made by their organisation's senior managers (62% to 58%); feel that change is managed well (41% to 38%); and feel that when changes are made they are usually for the better (41% to 36%).

Overall satisfaction with "leadership and managing change" dropped from 58% to 54%. Of the major departments, Cabinet Officials were least positive about this area (38%). The Department for Transport (61%) and HM Treasury (60%) – despite the dramatic sacking of its permanent secretary just two weeks before the survey ran – were most satisfied.

The survey was conducted from 22 September to 31 October, a period of dramatic political turmoil in which Kwasi Kwarteng, the chancellor at the time, announced a disastrous mini-budget which crashed the pound, he was dismissed, and the then-prime minister Liz Truss resigned.

Morale also down particulary in the centre of government

Pride also took a fall in this year’s survey, with just 67% of respondents saying they are proud when they tell people they are part of their organisation compared to 70% in 2021.

The topic is one element of the survey’s benchmark engagement index, which reflects the proportion of staff who answer positively to statements about how motivated they feel and whether they would recommend their organisation as a good place to work.

While the index has dropped by 1% overall this year across the civil service, key central departments have had much more significant falls in morale.

The Cabinet Office is the lowest-scoring major department this time around, after its engagement-index score dropped eight percentage points to 54% down from 62% in 2021.

HMT remains top for engagement among major departments but also had a big drop in morale, going from 74% to 68%.

The Cabinet Office said a total of 346,957 civil servants took part in the survey, a response rate of 65%, the same as in 2021.

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