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Civil Service

Social mobility - why the Civil Service needs to show the way

We have spoken often about our desire for the Civil Service to be the most inclusive employer in the country and an engine for social mobility. Today, the Minister for the Cabinet Office reiterated this ambition and set out our plan for achieving it.

The first step must be to understand in detail where we start from. And this is exactly what we have done, commissioning the Bridge report, the first of its kind published by any employer in the country, to look at socio-economic diversity in our highly respected Fast Stream graduate programme.

The report shows that although we have made progress on the basis of gender, sexuality and race - for example, over 14% of successful candidates are from ethnic minority groups - there are still far too few applicants to the Fast Stream from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

Four initiatives

The Civil Service, like many other institutions, made the assumption that an open and fair recruitment process would encourage candidates who reflect modern Britain. The Fast Stream is ahead of many peer employers in applying inclusive recruitment practices. But it is now clear that this alone is not enough. So, we must respond by taking further steps to ensure we attract and pull through a more representative diversity of talent.

And today we have begun with the announcement of four concrete initiatives:

  • name-blind recruitment will be rolled out across the public sector
  • the Fast Track apprenticeship scheme is to be expanded as part of a commitment to 30,000 new apprenticeship starts in the Civil Service by 2020
  • a number of changes to Fast Stream recruitment, selection and outreach, including establishing a regional assessment centre and shortening the assessment process
  • an ‘inequality index’, showing the pay ratio between the salaries of the median and highest-paid employees, will be published so we can measure progress and increase transparency  

Nurturing talent

These alone will not solve the issue, but they are another jump forward in the right direction.

And, importantly, this effort is not just about recruitment, it also depends on nurturing the talent we already have. The general population of the Civil Service is largely representative of the country we serve – we have slightly more women than men, our BAME representation is just below that of the country as a whole, and we have people from a wide range of different socio-economic backgrounds. But we must make sure everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed.

Talent schemes are an important way we can do this. If you believe that anyone in your team has the potential to be part of one of these schemes, please think of nominating them. And if you think you should be supported further, then keep knocking on your manager’s door. Don’t take no for answer. If they think you aren’t ready, then demand the support to raise your performance. We want a culture of ambitious and motivated civil servants doing their best to provide excellent public services.

Social mobility strategy

And most important of all, our leaders must lead by example and take an active role in breaking down the barriers that exist. We need confident leaders, who inspire staff and empower them to excel in their roles. Leaders who work beyond the typical cliques that can form in offices and embrace people who think differently to them. The Leadership Statement sets out these expected behaviours, and we will be supporting all leaders to meet them and then measuring their performance against them at the end of the year.

Along with an update on the Talent Action Plan, we will publish a social mobility strategy in the Spring that will set out our full response to the Bridge Group recommendations and bring all of the initiatives mentioned above into a Civil Service-wide plan. Today’s report makes for sobering reading in some respects. We know we have to do much better. But it is more than a wake-up call - we now have more of the evidence we need to start breaking down barriers and building a Civil Service that is more representative of the society we serve, and a more effective organisation because of it.


Our Chief People Officer Rupert McNeil has responded to some of your comments below.

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  1. Comment by Anthony posted on

    Funny, but i have a vague recollection of being asked similar questions now you mention it.

  2. Comment by Anthony posted on

    "The Bridge report was ground-breaking, in that it had access to over 140,000 registrations to the Fast Stream, all of whom had the opportunity to answer questions about their socio-economic background."
    So what about those of us who are not members of the Fast Stream? Why were we not asked about our socio-economic background?

    • Replies to Anthony>

      Comment by S posted on

      It has begun. A random selection of questions are asked at the end of the annual civil service engagement survey; not all about socio-economic background (mine seemed to be more about wellbeing but a nearby colleague had questions about her parents' profession when she was aged 14 and whether her family had been on benefits when she was a child)

    • Replies to Anthony>

      Comment by Steve posted on

      I'm all for Social Mobility. But the Civil Service needs to be very careful not to get involved in Social Engineering - i.e. giving a postion to a candidate who is not the best interviewed on the basis of his/her background. This would be disasterous, and frankly very sinister.

      I am from a working class background and rose through the grammar school social escalator. It worked very well for hundreds of thousands of working class children. I regard the senior civil servants that I see / meet as better than me. My judgement is that the vast majority of them deserve to be in senior positions.

  3. Comment by Rupert McNeil, Chief People Officer posted on

    I am pleased to see the level of engagement on this issue, and the detailed and considered thought that people have given in their responses.

    The questions “How do we measure who is working class?” “How we define social mobility?” and “How do we assess someone’s socio-economic background?” are all questions which have been considered across the education and employment sectors for years. The Bridge report was ground-breaking, in that it had access to over 140,000 registrations to the Fast Stream, all of whom had the opportunity to answer questions about their socio-economic background. The Civil Service, as one of the largest employers in the UK, is rightly (and has a duty to be) in the lead in the collective drive to increase diversity in the workplace. I recognise that answering questions that give us a sense of how socially diverse our work force is can be sensitive and difficult for people, and individual views must be respected. However, levelling the playing field for people of lower socio-economic backgrounds is vital if we are to have a Civil Service that is truly representative of the country we all serve so proudly. So as Lord Chris Holmes, responding to the Bridge Group publication so eloquently said, “We should never stop looking for those insights, those innovations, those applications of data to enable the chance, the opportunity, the potential to be realised.”

    We will be setting out our Civil Service-wide strategy for social mobility in the Spring. In it, we will lay out our approach to the collection of data on socio-economic backgrounds, how we bolster our outreach to extend the reach of the civil service to the broadest pool of talent in our communities, and how we tackle the barriers that can be traced back to individual socio-economic background. We will also set out interventions to increase confidence, encourage better managerial support, and aim to increase flexible working.

    I also note with interest all the comments generated by the work on reducing our estate.

    Each individual department is responsible for determining its workforce planning needs. This includes giving consideration to moving work outside London and the South East. The creation of strategically positioned hubs that help to have positive effects on the Civil Service and its workforce should remain the focus. We are currently working with departments to understand their workforce strategies, and this work is directly influencing plans to create new Government hubs in our regions.

    • Replies to Rupert McNeil, Chief People Officer>

      Comment by LITTLE LONDONER posted on

      Hopefully those hubs will be staffed by genuine local people in those regions, not by forced exiles from elsewhere.

    • Replies to Rupert McNeil, Chief People Officer>

      Comment by Joe P posted on

      As a fast stream alumnus I would be interested in understanding how a working class background is ascertained. I would certainly say that when I was born my family was certainly working class (my dad was a miner and my mum a hairdresser) however when I actually joined the fast stream circumstances had changed a little.

      Thanks to my time on the fast stream and continued work in the civil service I would define my current class as middle class with a working class background and tendencies (although I do enjoy the occassional trip to Waitrose...).

      I would be very happy to follow this up with Charlotte, Rupert or anyone else to try and find a way to increase social mobility within the civil service and especially the fast stream.

  4. Comment by harvey posted on

    Congratulations to the civil service in making great strides towards being more reflective of society as a whole, being an AO on ever decreasing money and rising train fares and living costs, the admin grades will shortly become part of the 1 million UK citizens forced to use food banks to get by. Keep up the good work!!

  5. Comment by Matt posted on

    If the civil service truly wants to show the way on social mobility it can start by:

    Fixing pay inequality within grades which see staff stuck at the bottom of a pay scale they can't move up currently being paid 16% less than those at the top.

    Fixing pay inequality between functions which see highly skilled professionals in demanding roles being paid the same as lesser qualified staff working far less demanding jobs at the same grade.

    Raising pay by the rate of inflation each year to ensure staff don't lose out, CPI inflation since 2010 stands at 15% while take home pay has risen by all of of 4%, 1.6% of which will be taken off of us in April by the changes to National Insurance contributions. Effectively a 12.4% pay cut over the last 6 years.

    Reverting enforced changes to pensions which see staff paying more (5.45% now compared to 3.5% in 2010) getting less (payouts based on average salary compared to final while pay is being suppressed as per above) and getting it later (new pension payable at state pension age, currently 68, as opposed to 55+)

    Changing promotion to be based on merit and the individual's ability to actually do the job rather than the current exercise of playing buzzword bingo against the core competence framework, on top of that stop punishing people who are good enough to get promoted by imposing worse terms and conditions on them.

    Changing the performance management process to likewise measure and reward performance based on merit and the individual's ability to actually do their job rather than the current joke where staff marked as performing at or even above the standard of their grade are handed performance improvement plans just to fill quotas while others not even pushing the boundaries of their own grade are handed bonuses.

    Giving staff back the twin certainties of job security and career progression in an environment that actually cares about them and their continuing development, an environment based on respect and professionalism.

  6. Comment by steveG posted on

    This article is a bit of a surprise. I had assumed the policy was the opposite. Changes to Terms and Conditions, punishing people for being promoted and the recruitment of anyone senior from outside the Department appear to me to be restricting social mobility.

  7. Comment by David posted on

    In terms of the Fast Stream, the stats for those from a lower SEB get filtered out at the tests/e-tray stage so they don't even have a chance to showcase their potential at the Assessment Centre. These need to be looked at again - let's look at potential, not polish. Indeed, a junior civil servant has probably worked with numbers/verbal reasoning and email intrays on a daily basis. Should this barrier be applied to existing civil servants from low SEB who want to go on to the Fast Stream to progress?

  8. Comment by Gavin Thomas posted on

    Sir Jeremy, Thank you for an interesting blog. When the Talent Action Plan was launched, it was hoped by all that it would tackle the issue of recruitment and the progression from the under represented groups and in particular from the BAME community. It is quite evident that the Civil Service has failed to deliver on the recommendations that were set out in the original plan and the one that was refreshed last March. Perhaps, the Civil Service needs to speak to staff from this particular community to try to discover what the barriers or challenges are that are been faced that is either discouraging people from the BAME community to join or is impacting on existing staff from progressing?

  9. Comment by N posted on

    I share the view that many like myself are doing the same job if not more and are being paid a great deal less. Last year I had a bonus and a top performer award but still earned less than the max for my grade in which I have been substansive for more than 8 years. I see this as completely and utterly unfair but I do not begrudge my colleagues who have been in the grade longer for being paid the max, because its not the max but the RATE FOR THE JOB! We need some radical changes on pay progression to reflect fairness, but not to the extent that people on the max are put on a 'Mark time pay basis'. Why can MPs & Ministers without experience or little experience not be on a pay scale but it is acceptable for Civil Servants to be???

    • Replies to N>

      Comment by RM posted on

      I agree with N and others regarding being paid less for doing the same job, its also worth noting that two people doing the same job in the same grade will be ranked against each other for PMR purposes even if one person has done the job for two years and another for ten. Why should I be rated against someone who gets paid thousands more than me and have to outperform them to have even the scantest chance of catching up ?

      In my previous department the pay ranges weren't called minimum and maximum, they were called entry and target. The implication being that the top of payscale is the rate for the job but you work up to that over a supposedly small number of years by preventing so many of us from reaching the top of our payscale the Civil Service isn't allowing us to be paid what it considers to be the going rate for our job.

      I've been in my current grade for three years, have had a top mark for the last two and been chosen to deputise for our team leader in their absence on numerous occasions. Yet overall I get paid less than someone whose been doing the job longer.

      Fair !? Don't make me laugh.

  10. Comment by Liz posted on

    What happened to the Bridge Report's recommendation that the civil service should "put new terms in place which make it easier for civil servants to live outside London"?

    For what reason was this removed from the final report?

    The Bridge Report states "The geographical focus on London is a deterrent: research indicates that lower SEB students are less likely to move to the area."

    Do you disagree with this finding? If not, why are there no proposals to address this issue?

    • Replies to Liz>

      Comment by LITTLE LONDONER posted on

      I was at an Ethnic Minority Steering Group event on career progression earlier this week. I learned from one of the sessions that the BAME proportion of primary school pupils in London is now 40%, substantially higher than any other region. If there's one thing that will kill any chance of the civil service representing the ethnic diversity of its population and being a genuine engine of social mobility (if there is such a thing) for members of a BAME group, it will be the wholesale withdrawal of the civil service from London, as advocated by several posters on this thread. Many of these live with extended families, with parents, grandparents and children under the same roof - a roof that will have been paid for long before the current London property boom, and a roof from which they cannot reasonably be expected to move. If the civil service is to be a truly regional and diverse organisation, it must continue to be represented in London. Contrary to what has been claimed here, it has lost far too many posts already, often to inaccessible rural locations. I myself have been threatened with relocation away from London three times in 32 years - and been threatened with dire consequences (like summary dismissal from the service) if I refused to move, which I have done 3 times. In none of these cases was a move of home objectively necessary.

  11. Comment by Chandru posted on

    I really welcome the focus and initiatives put in place, although I am not always sure of the desired impact of them in supporting greater social mobility etc. As someone who came from a lower socio-economic background I mention two issues I have seen as both an ex-faststreamer and now as an SCS who participates on occasion as a faststream assessor:

    1. The long joining period before being placed, not just the length of the recruitment process. I think this is partially resolved by the one intake but not sure.

    2. In assessment I have seen certain candidates being marked down because they speak 'street'. This is a reflection of the assessors not the candidate.

  12. Comment by Gemma posted on


    How is this consistent with the recent decision to close the BIS office in Sheffield. Leaving aside the appalling treatment of its current staff, this will have closed all analytical and policy posts in that Department to those unable to afford to live in London. This was not considered by the Department in its decision, given your comments above, shouldn't it have been?

  13. Comment by LITTLE LONDONER posted on

    All this talk about more jobs moving to London grates me. London has lost proportionately more civil service jobs over the years than any other region. And I don't know why those in the Welsh valleys are complaining ; they've had the DVLA since 1973 and the Land Registry since 2007. BY the way my local branch of the Land Registry in Harrow closed in 2007 with the loss of hundreds of local jobs for local Londoners like myself. When a new Wilkinson store opened in the area at the same time and held a recruitment fair, the queues to enter stretched for miles. Social mobility and geographic immobility go hand-in-hand. Modern flexible working (which Minister (AF) said, at a conference I attended earlier this week, she was going to "force through aggressively" in my own notoriouslyrisk-averse, process-focussed department), dramatically reduces the need for frequent moves of home which seem to be a very sacrosanct part of civil service culture.

  14. Comment by William (MoD) posted on

    It appears to me that it is the same comments in most of the blogs.
    Staff in all sections of the Civil Service (including me) are -
    * Unhappy at the loss of their increments;
    * Angry at the two faced pay restraint to save jobs announcement followed by a 30% cut in staff;
    * Falling behind industry in specialist's pay rates;
    * Leaving as soon as they can afford it - causing more gaps in skills;
    * Angry at the increases in pension contributions.

    I also have seen that Mr Manzoni has highlighted the increase in the number of contractors because the Civil Service no longer has the skills in-house.

    But - I wonder what good it is doing writing in a Blog and if anyone will actually do anything to help the Civil Service?

  15. Comment by Anonymous posted on

    Will the Civil Service be introducing a proper promotion system then to "nurture talent"? In my case I was told last time I was rejected for promotion that my two degrees "did not fit the Department's Competencies". Neither degree was gained at Oxford or Cambridge but one of them came from an university over 450 years old!

  16. Comment by Mary Hyder posted on

    Social Mobility?
    How about addressing the freeze on increments?
    Please justify paying staff on max (not only receiving higher salaries but consequently higher pensions) while the rest of us continue to receive lower pay (and pensions) for doing exactly the same job.....

  17. Comment by Joe posted on

    The closure of regional offices such as the Sheffield BIS office means that the Civil Service continues to reduce its' regional diversity.
    With such closures the Civil Service is reducing social mobility for all those not within commutable distance of London.
    Despite its' efforts regards diversity the Civil Service is falling behind most other employees in regards to regional diversity.
    Regional diversity should be taken as seriously as any other aspect of diversity, but currently it isn't.

  18. Comment by anon posted on

    The London-centric nature of policy and senior jobs in the Civil Service is an important barrier to diversity. Despite years of rhetoric about moving the Civil Service out of London, this problem has worsened since 2010 ( The closure of the BIS office in Sheffield and the associated (evidence-free) claim that policy can't be done out in the regions suggest that the Civil Service exacerbates the trend.

  19. Comment by David posted on

    Not much help or encouragement has ever been given to the people of the South Wales Valleys. Seems unjust and unfair.

    • Replies to David>

      Comment by Michael posted on

      The most high profile person to say 'Something must be done' about employment problems in South Wales left his country inside weeks and did not stick around to see anything done. (King Edward VIII, 1936).

      • Replies to Michael>

        Comment by LITTLE LONDONER posted on

        A lot of South Wales is in the Bristol Travel-to-Work area, where the Defence Equipment and Support organisation is located. It moved from London to MOD Abbey Wood (North Bristol) in 1995/6. This location has been a built-in recruitment problem from the start, far more so than London was. There are oodles of vacancies at Abbey Wood, as was predicted when the first move occurred. Why are there so many complaints about the civil service being so London-centric (the reverse is increasingly true) when jobs in major provincial locations like Bristol remain unfilled?

  20. Comment by Joe posted on

    The closure of regional offices such as the Sheffield BIS office means that the Civil Service continues to reduce its' regional diversity.
    With such closures the Civil Service is reducing social mobility for all those not within commutable distance of London.
    Despite its' efforts regards diversity the Civil Service is falling behind most other employees in regards to regional diversity.
    Regional diversity should be taken as seriously as any other aspect of diversity, but currently it isn't.

  21. Comment by Laura G posted on

    In relation to the points the Bridge Report makes about encouraging SEB candidates to the Fast Stream I think the most important recommendation they make is to have a direct link straight in to the Fast Stream for Summer Diversity Interns. Most other big graduate recruiters have these links from their summer programmes to graduate jobs. The interns will have already done online tests for their SDIP place, and surely if the interns perform well for 8-10 weeks over summer that is a better indication that they are suited to the Fast Stream than a day at an assessment centre?

  22. Comment by Jill posted on

    Aside from Fast Track which only benefits a relatively small number of Civil Servants, consideration should be given to those in roles such as administration/support. I am confident that many staff would like to leave administrative roles and take on other pro-active roles within the Civil Service, but are hindered by perceptions (unspoken and likely subconscious) that some people are ‘do-ers’ and some people are ‘supporters’. Undoubtedly many are happy in administrative roles, but for those who are not more active interest in the professional ambitions of individuals would help to remove the firm ceiling (and 4 windowless walls) which prevent movement away from support roles. Personally I have been self-funding higher education, and strategically taking roles in my interest area – volunteering for any tasks which will provide the experience I need to move away from administration. Fortunately I now have a very supportive manager. I have, previously experienced a manager who refused to allow me any training other than that which would make me the perfect administrative assistant, and explicitly told me that my self-funded higher education must not impact my support role. Such attitudes seriously impede internal progression. Looking around me now I would be surprised if the majority of administrative roles are not filled by women without a higher education background (statistically likely therefore to be from a lower socio-economic background also). If diversity among Senior Civil Servants is what is sought, this would be a good place to start.

    • Replies to Jill>

      Comment by I Okin posted on

      I have a similar situation where my manager did not agree or disagree to me taking up some further training. However, I think that she thinks that I should be content (as an ethnic minority) with my lowly position and should not aim for anyhting higer. I find that 'they' do not like intelligent ethnic minorities - very quickly we are told that we are too emotional, do not understand the 'crux of the matter', we're analysed half to the death and disprortionately, we are put on permance managment corrective measures. How is it that an organisation cannot make better use of a person that has self-funded a PG in International Law other than to keep that person as an Admin Officer?

  23. Comment by Siwan posted on

    As a single mother who is struggling financially, I find that being a civil servant does not pay enough to cover basic family costs. The civil servants who can devote most time and energy to their work are those who are fortunate enough to have another source of income e.g. homeowners who have made money on rising house prices. Unless the civil service pays enough for the poorest in society to be able to live without financial stress, it cannot claim to be designed to welcome them as civil servants.

    • Replies to Siwan>

      Comment by Sharon posted on

      A lot of home-owners have made many sacrifices to do so. It is difficult to get on the property ladder but it always has been for some. Lots of readers will remember interest rates of 15% in the 80's! Also, having made money on your property doesn't help unless you sell. Many low-paid workers are struggling, not just lone-parents!

      • Replies to Sharon>

        Comment by LITTLE LONDONER posted on

        Totally agree Sharon., And more to the point, it actually costs you to move out of a high-cost area to a lower-cost one if you have unbreakable ties with that area. Aside from the fact that your wages are likely to go down, you will be spending a lot of them on going back to the area that you left.

  24. Comment by LDS posted on

    If we get promoted now, we lose annual leave allowance and paid sick absence. How can we nurture internal talent when we are penalized for getting promoted?

  25. Comment by syl posted on

    "The general population of the Civil Service is largely representative of the country we serve" should this statement be followed by ... but we are moving large numbers of civil service posts to London and ensuring that all policy making will have a London centric perspective.

    • Replies to syl>

      Comment by LITTLE LONDONER posted on

      Out of interest Syl, which Department do you work in? My own has moved loads of jobs out of London in the past 20 years, with loads more to follow. If you live in the West Country or East Anglia and work for my department, you're laughing. Not so if you're irrevocably tied to London, as many are. The Lyons Review of 2004 moved about 20K posts civil-service wide out of London, many to traditionally deprived Northern regions.

  26. Comment by J Brookes posted on

    The removal excess fares and the requirement to work in Hubs is a serious disincentive to social mobility. Promotion can often mean you are worse off.

    • Replies to J Brookes>

      Comment by John posted on

      Agreed. I used to be able to walk to work in Bath. Now I have to pay £1500 a year for an annual train season ticket just to get to work in Bristol. As there are no promtion prospects for specialist IT staff In MOD (most jobs were outsourced), there is only one option - resign and get a job with a decent employer who respects terms and condtions of employment.

    • Replies to J Brookes>

      Comment by Buster Friendly posted on

      Being treated as a new starter and losing 1.5 days' leave on promotion despite having worked in CS for over a decade, an ongoing pay freeze, a further 1.4% pay cut by increasing NI contributions without a corresponding pension increase, the reduction of T&S claims to less than the cost of a sandwich; all these are disincentives to those of use already serving, never mind the people recruited on Fast Track schemes ( who will doubtless be getting paid more than existing staff doing the same work ). People who think differently to leadership just get ignored, as we do not contribute towards the feathering of nests.

      • Replies to Buster Friendly>

        Comment by Antoni Chmielowski HMRC posted on

        All the above reasons highlight why there is no incentive for me as an AO with 27 years service to get promoted.

        What type of organisation encourages its staff to be promoted and then reward them with worse Terms & Conditions - One that is desperate to replace its experienced (and therefore expensive workforce) with a less experienced ( and cheaper workforce).

        As I stated at my Building Our Future 3 Event in Liverpool last year, I wish that the senior Civil Service Leadership would recognise that not everyone wants to get promoted,

    • Replies to J Brookes>

      Comment by Matthew posted on

      I note with interest the Civil Service's intended desire to portray more equality by employing individuals from a wider background - especially so now that HMRC has announced its decision to close 170 offices, pulling back into only major cities and leaving large swathes of the country unrepresented by local offices.

      Perhaps if you want equal representation, may I suggest that your decision to retract in such a manner is an inherently flawed one, specifically given that a number of offices are situated in areas that you would consider as 'deprived' and have always formed a significant location of employment for locals.

      Not everything is about London. Not everything is about Whitehall.