UK civil servants’ pay rise lower than other public sector workers’

By on 28/07/2019 | Updated on 24/09/2020
HM Treasury has increased senior civil servants’ pay by 2% for the current financial year – more than the 1.5% set last year, but 0.2% below the figure recommended by a salary review board (Image courtesy: Stephen Richards/Geograph).

Senior civil servants in the UK are to get a 2% pay rise, outgoing chancellor Philip Hammond announced on Monday, rejecting the recommendations proposed by a salary review board.

The pay rise matches that afforded senior military staff, but is less than school teachers, medical consultants and dentists, police officers and Armed Forces personnel – whose pay will increase by between 2.5% and 2.9% – will receive, and below the 2.2% rise recommended by the Senior Salaries Review Body (SSRB). The government announced in June that junior civil servants would receive 1% average pay rises in 2019/20 but that organisations could award up to a further 1% provided it is affordable within budgets and will not impact on the safe delivery of public services.

The latest annual SSRB report, published on Monday, found that the impact of high workloads and 10 years of below-inflation pay increases has led many senior civil servants to feel undervalued, and said that while it was “useful to see the emerging plans for the development of a new senior civil service [performance management] framework”, there is a “shortage of concrete proposals for reform”.

It added that the current proposals, submitted to the SSRB by the Cabinet Office in May, “may result in an overcomplicated system that will create new problems and lead to further demoralisation of the workforce”, and that the “biggest current problem remains the lack of any form of pay progression”. The SSRB report calls for “greater pace and more commitment” to a timetable for implementing change, and recommends that government prioritise developing and investing in a “credible, robust and simple pay progression system” for senior civil servants.

External costs

The SSRB report also highlights a glaring gap in pay between internal and external hires. Those recruited externally command a salary premium of 28.5% over internal candidates – a difference that, trade union Prospect said, demonstrates “just how far pay has fallen behind the wider labour market”. 

In response to the SSRB report, former Cabinet Officer minister David Lidington – who resigned on Tuesday in protest at new prime minister Boris Johnson’s stance on Brexit – said that the government would follow all other recommendations put forward by the board, but that the pay increase for senior civil servants should be limited to 2%. This, he said, aligned their rise with the guidance set for the pay rises received by more junior civil servants, where pay decisions are delegated to departments. He added that government would undertake work on developing “capability-based pay progression”.  

Garry Graham, Prospect’s deputy general secretary, said in a statement following Hammond’s announcement: “Yet again an opportunity has been missed. The terms of reference set by the government for the SSRB has meant that its hands have been largely tied and it can do little more than highlight problems and identify issues which need to be addressed over the longer term. The government has effectively capped the SSRB’s recommendations at 2% – again singling out the civil service for the harshest of treatment, not only in comparison to the private sector but also the wider public sector.

“At a time when the government has never been so reliant on the civil service, and MPs themselves received 2.7% in April, the government’s approach to pay both for the senior civil service and for delegated grades will be difficult for many to stomach – especially when the coming months are likely to be even more testing.”

Too much can-kicking

Speaking before Johnson became PM, he added that “any incoming prime minister needs to stop kicking the can down the road, recognise the invaluable support provided by the civil service and ensure that staff are rewarded fairly”.   

As for how the pay rises will be funded, Hammond – who also resigned on Tuesday shortly after Johnson’s appointment as prime minister – said government could afford them because “our balanced approach means we have reduced our debt while investing in public services, including pay”.  However, with no new money attached to the government’s proposed pay rises, it isn’t clear how government departments will be able to fund them.

  • This article was amended at 11pm on 31 July. We previously stated that the government recommended in June that more junior civil servants receive 2% average pay rises but that departments have flexibility under delegated authority rules. In fact, the government announced that junior civil servants would receive 1% average pay rises in 2019/20 but that organisations could award up to a further 1% – we have changed one sentence to clarify this.

About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.


  1. Adam says:

    This article only considers the position fort Senior Civil Service grades. Junior grades will get less than SCS and their morale and sense of value is being eroded far faster. I am just below the SCS structure and have had no pay increase for three years despite hitting all my performance targets. I will not put in any extra effort any more as all we get are lies about what a good job we are doing and how our efforts are valued.

    • Pete says:

      Try looking at the new pay deal as of 10/19, I’ve been working 3 grades above mine for the last six years with no recognition and no chance of being regraded, I spend weeks away from home and work long hours. I’ve just seen that within 3 years I might actually gross 23k + overtime Yey!! Then I looked at the overtime, it looks like it’s going to paid at flat rate!!!!!!!! And time and half for weekend work

  2. Ian Williams says:

    The “junior grade” Civil Servants, certainly in the HMRC & DWP are still being capped to 1%. This is, of course, an absolute disgrace and I find it difficult to believe there is no further money without mucking about with terms and conditions.

  3. Will says:

    “In June, the government recommended that more junior civil servants receive average 2% rises, though here departments have some flexibility under delegated authority rules.” I’m not sure this is correct. According to the Civil Service Pay Remit guidance 2019-20 published on 13 June by the Cabinet Office, “For 2019/20, funding arrangements remain as set in 2015 for the current Spending Review period, where funding is for 1% average pay awards.” It then goes on to say that flexibility, through recycled savings, is being allowed so that departments can make awards of up to 2%. So while Senior Civil Servants can feel themselves hard done by when compared with police officers, doctors, teachers, etc. they can at least rest easy in the knowledge that their award will be higher than their more junior colleagues!

    • Mia Hunt says:

      Hi Will,

      Thank you for highlighting this. You are correct. The government announced that junior civil servants would receive 1% average pay rises in 2019/20 but that organisations could award up to a further 1%. So effectively, some junior civil servants could receive pay rises of up to 2% rather than 2% on average. We have amended the article to reflect this and have added a correction at the bottom.

  4. Ian says:

    I been a Junior MOD Civil Servant for five years and a Police Control Room 999 Operator before that. I have had 1% pay rises since 2009, yet I have worked really hard for the organisations I was employed by. It really sticks in my craw when I hear the media spouting on about how the Public Sector have received higher that inflation pay rises this year. It feels somehow that the Junior CS are being punished by the Government no matter how hard we work. With 10 years of 1% pay rises, with CPI inflation average 2 to 2.5% I have taken a massive pay cut in real terms. Where is the incentive to carry on trying to do a good job when we know how badly thought of we really are.

  5. Victoria says:

    Pertinent to note that the pay increase is still not ratified- despite the fact that we are nearly halfway through this financial year- and any increase that is finally decided upon will not be backdated. In effect, by the time that it is implemented there will be a lot less than half of the year left to pay, what a perfect way for them to save money! It boggles belief that at the point in the year when 2020 budgeting forecasts should be at the forefront, no decisions have been finalised on the current year.

    • Alan says:

      I quite agree Victoria, I am appalled at how the Government is treating the Civil service. there would be uproar in the private sector if a pay rise was recommended and it hadn’t been implemented 3 months later. I am not sure you are 100% correct about the backdating I thought it was in the previous years.
      I am so disillusioned with the Civil Service I am actually leaving in December. I have had enough of trying to make ends meet with an ever decreasing pay packet relatively speaking. It also galls me that contractors being brought in to cover the gaps left by disillusioned civil servants that have left are getting £10k more for doing the same job.
      Quite frankly December cannot come quick enough, I just hope we get the pay rise before I leave!!! Ha Ha

  6. Dawn says:

    I am a civil servant, at skill zone 1 and work 2 levels above without any extra pay .
    Needless to say I’m not overly happy with the deal offered.
    Even with the 2% my wage will have to rise again in April because of the minimum wage.
    Civil servants are not all highly paid.

  7. Harry says:

    Does anyone think the 2020 budget signalled some hope of a bigger pay rise this year? Rishi was certainly splashing the cash all over the place. That was however before the UK economy tanked because of Coronavirus…..
    If all I’m offered is a measly 1 to 2% again then I’ll have to leave my job for a promotion. It’ll end up costing the government more as everyone is leaving their jobs after 6 months to a year just to get a pay rise. The astronomical costs that arises from this in terms recruitment and retraining for 10s of thousands of jobs far outweighs giving us a 5% pay rise which will tempt most of us to staying in our job for longer.

  8. Kay says:

    All good and well but I’m shocked to discover there is one particular department that has a weird set up where anyone employed after August 2018 doesn’t even get the miserly pay award! Who agreed such a stupid discriminatory thing? Yet they wonder at the high staff turnover of newbies. The mind boggles

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