Real terms-pay drops again, with SCS pay nosediving by 26% since 2010

Civil servants’ average real-terms pay fell at each grade for a second year running
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By Tevye Markson

08 Aug 2023

Real-terms pay in the civil service has fallen again at all grades, analysis by the Institute for Government has found.

This is the second year running that average real-terms wages have fallen at each responsibility level, with the biggest decline at executive officer level, also for a second year in a row.

Senior civil service wages have fallen the most over a longer period, the think tank analysis shows, dropping by 26% since 2010.

The figures do not take into account the wage rise for 2023-24 of 4.5% for delegated grades – plus a backdated £1,500 cost-of-living payment for the previous year – and 5.5% for the SCS offered this year amid a backdrop of soaring inflation which hit a 41-year high of 11.1% in October. The Cabinet Office has described the pay rise for non-SCS as "the biggest pay increase in over 20 years", while minister Jeremy Quin said the SCS pay deal would be “the highest award for the SCS for many years”.

The IfG analysed civil service statistics data, released last week, calculating the change in real-terms median civil service salary – overall and by grade – from 2022-23 and since 2010.

It did this by comparing changes in pay – after departments were asked to give civil servants average pay rises of between 2-3% in 2022-23 – with the Consumer Price Index.

The think tank found a drop of between 1-3% at each grade – not as big as in 2021-22, when wages fell by between seven and eight per cent at each responsibly level amid a pay freeze. There was also a much smaller decrease in the real-terms wage of the civil service overall, which reduced by 0.1% compared to the 5.5% drop the year before.

But the long-term trend of falling wage value at all grades means salaries in the civil service are now worth 12% and 26% less than 13 years ago at each grade level.

Across all responsibility levels, this is a 3.3% real-terms fall in wages in the same period due to the rising seniority of the civil service.

Fall in real-terms wages by grade 2022-23, 2021-22 and 2010-2023)

Grade Real-terms drop in pay , 2022-23 Real-terms drop in pay, 2021-22 Real-terms drop in pay, 2010-23
AA 0.7% 6.5% 12.3%
EO 3.3% 7.6% 19.6%
SEO/HEO 1.7% 6.6% 18.%
6/7 3.0% 7.0% 22.6%
SCS 3.2% 6.8% 26.0%
All employees 0.1% 5.5% 3.3%

The senior civil service represents 1.5% of the civil service compared to 1% in 2013, while grade6/7 makes up 15.2% of the civil service compared to 7.8% ten years ago. The third highest level, senior/higher executive officer, has risen from 20.9% to 25.8% in the same period.

Meanwhile, the proportion of officials at the lowest grade has dropped hugely. Administrative assistants/officers now represent 27.6% of the civil service compared to 44.2% ten years ago.

The percentage of executive officers has changed the least, with it now making up 25.8 of civil servants compared to 26.0% in 2013.

The increasing seniority of the civil service amid a continuing real-terms reduction in civil service wages across all grades has meant that civil service pay restraint "has not led to the overall savings that the government might have expected”, the IfG said in a report earlier this year.

Unions seek pay system reform as resignation rate rises

The civil service statistics for 2022-23 also showed resignation rates have risen again , with unions blaming the pay system and more than a decade of declining pay.

FDA assistant general secretary Amy Leversidge told CSW it is "not surprising" that resignations now make up 57% of all departures from the civil service "when the value of civil service pay has been plummeting for over a decade".

In a survey of senior civil servants carried out by the FDA this year more than 41% said they were actively looking for another job, with the declining value of pay was the top reason for wanting to leave,” Leversidge said.

Last week, Prospect and the FDA wrote a letter to the minister for the Cabinet Office, requesting urgent talks to "transform [the] broken pay system before it is too late".

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