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Civil Service

Faith and Belief in the Civil Service – reflections from the new Champion

Home Office Permanent Secretary Matthew Rycroft

Matthew Rycroft, Permanent Secretary at the Home Office, reflects on the diversity of faith and belief communities celebrating and observing religious holidays and festivals during the pandemic, as the new Civil Service Faith and Belief Champion.

I am delighted to be taking on the Faith and Belief Champion role for the Civil Service from Clare Moriarty. As with my cross-Civil Service Race Champion role, it is a fantastic opportunity to learn more about faiths and belief and to champion the diversity which is at the heart of our Brilliant Civil Service.

Testing time

The last 12 months of the pandemic have been a testing time for everyone.  What has struck me has been the way so many people have found strength in their faiths and belief; not only to get through it themselves but also to reach out and help others at work or in their community who are feeling isolated or going through a tough time.

Sense of community

Usually, the sense of community and togetherness would be an obvious feature of the various religious festivals observed during the last month or so – whether it’s Easter Sunday service, Jewish families observing Passover together, the colourful festivities of Holi, the processions of Vaisakhi, or the night prayers during Ramadan. 

Sadly, I know that COVID-19 and the effects of lockdown have been hugely challenging for faith and belief communities the length and breadth of Britain, either during the closing of places of worship as in the first lockdown or imposing strict rules of attendance and social distancing since then. But each community has found its own way to carry on, for example through online congregations or volunteer work to support the most vulnerable in our society. 

This resilience is a feature of the Civil Service too, and so many of our colleagues have found strength from networks of colleagues who come together because of their shared faith or belief. 

Religious symbols

So, in that context, what do I hope to achieve as Faith and Belief Champion? Firstly, I want to raise awareness of the experience in the workplace of those who have a faith or belief. What is the evidence telling us and are we using that evidence in the most effective way to encourage the diversity of thought that we know leads to better outcomes for the people we serve?

Secondly, as Alex Chisholm recently set out in his announcement of the role of Civil Service Inclusion Champions, I’ll be working in a team with the other Permanent Secretary champions to focus in particular on the theme of recruitment through multiple lenses, including faith and belief and race. What is our shared experience telling us about how we as a Civil Service recruit and retain people of different races, faiths and beliefs? And what more can we do to ensure our recruitment and retention practices are inclusive?

Head and shoulders of Matthew Rycroft, Permanent Secretary at the Home Office
Matthew Rycroft, Permanent Secretary, Home Office

I’d be interested to hear your views on how the pandemic has impacted how you practise your faith or belief. What is your lived experience as a person of faith, belief or no belief working in today’s Civil Service and how do you think we can improve how we recruit and retain people to create a more inclusive Civil Service for everyone?

I’m building my own knowledge of these areas by attending events hosted by the different faith and belief networks and discussing their priorities for the year ahead. Together we can identify the actions that will make the biggest difference, then get on and do them.

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  1. Comment by Andy Bartram posted on

    Hi Matthew and congratulations on this new role.

    I've been an ethical vegan for 21 years and was delighted to hear that it's now a philosophical belief that's protected against discrimination under the Equality Act 2010.

    Generally, I don't mention I'm vegan unless asked or there's a need to explain - for example, when out for a meal with colleagues. Almost always, colleagues are really respectful but occasionally, and recently, I've received some mocking, disrespectful comments.

    I should stress these haven't been in response to anything other than my explaining that I'm vegan to contextualise an experience I had.

    I responded in a friendly way, brushing it off as a joke but I did feel a bit uncomfortable.

    I'm sure the person didn't mean any harm and I wasn't offended or upset: it just made a situation awkward.

    So it'd be great to see some recognition that ethical veganism is now a protected belief, as I don't think this is widely known.

    I'd be very happy to write an article if that would help.

    Many thanks


  2. Comment by Linda Haskew posted on

    As a Christian, my church has luckily been able to switch to online services, so we are able to worship and receive teaching. Watching the service online has meant I can still sing along, also Departmental Carol services and lots of similar things are online, I have been able to attend those where normally I couldn't travel to them. I've been able to attend lots of Christian in government sessions too so I am having fellowship with a much greater number of people of a greater diversity of backgrounds which has been fantastic. I am mindful that if people did not have the means to connect via internet, they would have been more isolated, so phoning people regularly had been important too. Of course, our faith is more than attending church and having fellowship with other Christians, it is reaching out to the lonely/and those self-isolating and those who have suffered hardship during the pandemic. There have been lots of opportunities there too. I know that people across all faiths and none have been very active in their community to help each other out and this is not limited to Christian activity.

  3. Comment by Gavin Thomas posted on

    Congratulations on your appointment as Champion.

    I am Christian who for a short while lost my way in terms of my faith, but then rediscovered it during my posting to Istanbul.

    I use to enjoy my attendance at the Sunday morning services at Christ Church, as it gave me the opportunity to meet some pretty amazing people. It also gave me the chance for some personal reflection, and in particular the way that I behaved towards others and the importance of being inclusive.

    Unfortunately, upon my return the UK I have not been able to attend our local church on a regular basis because of my engagement with a local voluntary group who maintain our local Heath.

    I did however attend a special service held in December 2019 that was held for blessing our pets and sought to keep in touch with the church online.


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