Anne Brewster – employee and partnerships manager, DWP, Scunthorpe
When and why did you join the civil service?
I left school and tried college, but it wasn’t for me at the time. So I got a job in a library but it’s not really my thing to be so quiet. One of my parents’ friends worked in the civil service and suggested I apply. This was 1978.
The interview was quite scary: you’re sitting in front of three people behind a desk. I’d never done anything like that. I got through, and became an administrative officer in the Department of Employment. I did that for 10 years and thoroughly enjoyed it. And then children came along. In those days, there wasn’t a lot of childcare provision so I ended up leaving and running my own childminding business, becoming one of the first in the area to be a nursery educator. Then when my own children got to 14, and I felt maybe I couldn’t do Play-Doh anymore, I applied to go back into the civil service. This was 2004. I’d been an executive officer before, but because I’d been out for 13 years I could only go back as an administrative officer. So then I made my way back up to executive officer and I’m a higher executive officer now.
I’m proud to call myself a civil servant. I may not have been to university, but I’m a civil servant, you know? In my role, the decisions aren’t made that far above us. The higher management are all very visible and even the ministers come and talk to us. So you feel part of it: you can put your ideas in and share good practice across the country.
What is your role and how does it help citizens?
I run a team of five employer advisers who go out to businesses and sell DWP initiatives to get people back into work. We sometimes help businesses if they’re making redundancies, too: we’ll go in and give redundancy support so that, hopefully, the people being made redundant won’t reach our books and claim benefits, because we’ll try and help them into work before then.
Another part of what I do is to liaise with the local authority and various partners in the area to address some of the barriers people face in going into work. And if we’ve not got provision in those areas, it’s my job to go out and try and broker something with partners to fill those gaps.
"If I can make that difference to people’s lives, if I can inspire somebody, then that is worth every bit of being a civil servant"
How did your role change during the pandemic?
Because we were key workers, we were actually in the office virtually all the time. The biggest change was that my team – along with the work coaches – pivoted to paying out Universal Credit, which we hadn’t done before. The pandemic led to an unprecedented amount of claims, so it was: “Let’s drop everything and get these people paid”. It was quite awe-inspiring that colleagues managed to do that.
What motivates you?
There are still those that are very far from work – perhaps people with a disability – but it’s our job to change that. Firstly the work coaches help people realise that they can work, but it’s my team’s job to go out to business and say, “What about employing disabled people? Let’s try and get everybody working, because we know that work is good for us.”
I’m also the older worker representative for the district, and, being an older worker, I’ve got experience of that! So I explain to businesses how they can retrain, recruit, and keep their older workers and that doing so makes a real difference in the community.
If I can, by my stories, make that difference to people’s lives, if I can inspire somebody, then that is worth every bit of being a civil servant.
This profile is part of a series looking at the huge diversity of people and roles that make up the modern civil service. Read more here