Pay driving a third of experienced civil servants to consider leaving, survey finds

“It is not feasible to stay in a career in which your pay is falling in real terms every year”
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By Tevye Markson

23 Nov 2023

Almost a third of experienced officials are searching for jobs outside the civil service, with pay cited as the main reason, a union survey has found.

Some 31% of respondents to the FDA survey said they were actively looking for jobs outside the civil service, with a huge 87% of that group saying pay was the main factor. The survey also found two-thirds of respondents were more inclined to look for jobs outside the civil service than twelve months ago.

More than 4,700 civil servants completed the survey – nearly a third of FDA members in the civil service and the union’s largest survey ever – in July, which asked them to share their opinions on pay. The majority of the union’s members are Grade 6 and 7 officials, but its membership spans across civil service grades, from HEO to permanent secretaries.

Some of the other standout results from the survey were:

  • 64% said they are not satisfied with their current pay
  • 76% believe that the current pay system is unfair and inequitable
  • 65% answered that they do not see a clear link between their skills, knowledge and experience and their pay
  • 69% reported a decrease in their morale over the last year.

'We're doing more for less'

Civil servants at delegated grades were given an average pay rise this year of 4.5-5%, plus a one-off payment of £1,500, following months of strikes over low pay. Senior civil servants meanwhile got an average 5.5% rise, plus 1% for anomalies. This came after a year of soaring inflation, which reached a high of 11.1% in October 2022.

However, median salaries at each grade have fallen in real terms by between 12% and 23% since 2010. 

Civil servants told the survey that “it is not feasible to stay in a career in which your pay is falling in real terms every year”.

 “We are, in effect, doing more for less money,” one official said.

Survey respondents also raised concerns about having to take on additional responsibilities and knowledge without a real pay rise.

“I have been at my current grade for four years now, progressively improving in skills, knowledge and experience – and yet due to consistently below-inflation pay rises, my real-terms pay is lower than it was in 2019,” one said.

Respondents described the impact on their living standards and how the lack of reward for their work makes them feel.

“I worked hard to have a decent standard of living. It has been steadily eroded by below inflation pay rises or just keeping even pay rises,” one civil servant said. 

“It is very demoralising to have no possibility of a pay rise without having to apply for a new job… What, therefore, is the point of working hard or being good at your job when this is not rewarded?” said another. 

Another official said: “It is a shame but I cannot ignore it anymore. I am being treated with total contempt and disrespect with constant real-terms pay cuts… Enough is enough.”

Officials also described being paid less than those doing the same or more junior roles, and being paid less as a very senior official than what private sector workers earn in their first job.

'Pay is my entire driver'

A quarter of respondents said they would like to leave the civil service as soon as possible, while 66% said they were more inclined to search for jobs outside the civil service than a year ago.

The 87% who said pay is the main reason they want to leave is a big increase on the 54% who told the Civil Service People Survey they want to move jobs for a better pay and benefits package.

Feedback included:“[Pay] is my entire driver. I love this job but in this cost of living crisis I can’t afford to be paid so much less than equivalent jobs in the private sector”.

Another official said: “You cannot cut people’s pay for 14 years in a row and expect them to stay committed… I will not continue to work where I am held in contempt rather than valued.”

The report finds the dissatisfaction with pay and desire to leave is mirrored by levels of civil service turnover in the last year. Movement between departments was five times higher in 2022 than in 2021, while the number of those leaving the civil service altogether also spiked by around 3 per cent in 2022, the report said.

One official told the survey: “I want to work for the civil service because I want to make a difference and improve the lives of people in the UK. However, ministers have made it clear, both through their actions on pay and through comments in the press, that they do not value civil servants and the work we do.”

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