Mandarin millionaires: civil service pension pots


According to the latest accounts, the combined value of all public sector pension liabilities reached £2.19 trillion in 2019-20,[1] or over 95 per cent of GDP.[2] Public sector pensions are legally required to rise in line with the state pension[3], which will be an increase of 3.1 per cent this year (2022-23).[4] Civil servants are already rewarded with regular promotion, salary rises and job security, in addition to pensions generally more generous than those in the private sector. In future, the default for all new civil servants should be to have a funded, defined contribution pension scheme.[5] Unfunded pension schemes do not have assets set aside to cover the costs of employee benefits, and instead rely on future taxation.

The median gross pay of those in the public sector is already 14.1 per cent higher than their private sector counterparts.[6] Private sector taxpayers – who are, more often than not, members of less generous schemes – should not be left subsidising unfunded pensions for public sector workers.  

This note details the size of the top Whitehall civil servants’ pension pots in the latest year for which data is available, 2020-21, including the annual pension they’ll receive, as well as lump sum payments they’ll be entitled to upon retirement.




Key findings

  • During 2020-21, 187 of the most senior civil servants had a cumulative pension pot of £122.9 million. This is an average pension pot of £657,128 in 2020-21. Of these, 38 civil servants’ pension pots are worth more than £1 million.

  • Excluding those who have since left, the civil servant with the largest pension pot is Sir Philip Barton, permanent under-secretary of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. His pension pot was valued at £1,690,000.

  • During 2020-21, the mandarin with the largest annual pension was Lord Sedwill, whose pension pot was the equivalent of £102,500 per year in retirement. This is over three times the median annual pay for full-time workers in the UK in 2021 (£31,285).[7] The average pension for departmental heads upon retirement was equivalent to £39,904 per annum.

  • 94 of the civil servants will earn a lump sum upon retirement. The average lump sum was £99,894 in 2020-21.

  • A further five mandarins were entitled to annual pensions of between £80,000 and £95,000 per year. These are permanent secretaries Matthew Rycroft, Tamara Finkelstein, Christopher Wormald and Simon McDonald, and first parliamentary counsel Elizabeth Gardiner.





[1] HM Treasury, Whole of Government Accounts, 2019-20, 6 June 2022.

[2] HM Treasury, GDP deflators at market prices, and money GDP June 2022 (Quarterly National Accounts), 30 June 2022,, (accessed 12 July 2022). 

[3] Thurley, D., Public service pension increases, House of Commons Library, 26 October 2021, p. 4.

[4] Department for Work and Pensions, State Pension and Benefit rates for 2022 to 2023 confirmed, 25 November 2021, (accessed 14 July 2022

[5] Basey, P., Pensions inequality, TaxPayers’ Alliance, August 2018.

[6] Office for National Statistics, Earnings and hours worked, UK region by public and private sector: ASHE Table 25.7a, 26 October 2021,, (accessed 10 July 2022).

[7] Office for National Statistics, Earnings and hours worked, place of residence by local authority: ASHE Table 8.7a,, (accessed 20 June 2022).

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