Mandarin millionaires: civil service pension pots


Public sector pensions are one of the government’s largest liabilities reaching £2.3 trillion in 2020-21.[1] This was more than 100 per cent of GDP in 2020-21, the first time it has reached this level.[2] The civil service operates an ‘unfunded’ scheme accounting for £339 billion of this total, which is more than either the Armed Forces or the Police. Unlike ‘funded’ arrangements, in which employees set aside assets to be disbursed in future, these pensions will be paid for through future taxation or borrowing.

In 2023 median gross pay for public sector workers was almost nine per cent more on average than private sector workers,[3] and their pensions are more generous. The Institute for Fiscal Studies found that 47 per cent of public sector employees received an employer pension contribution of at least 20 per cent in 2021.[4] That number was two per cent for private sector employees. The government is committed to increasing civil service pensions each April at the same rate as inflation in the previous September, and they will therefore rise by 6.7 per cent in April 2024.[5] This is alongside the regular promotion, salary rises and job security which should be sufficient for a career in the civil service.

By default, civil service pensions should operate on a funded, defined contribution pension scheme, like the private sector, instead of the generous defined benefit model currently used. This will ensure private sector taxpayers are not left subsidising public sector workers unfunded pensions in the future.

This note reviews the top Whitehall civil servants’ pension pots for 2022-23, the latest year for which data is available. The data includes the annual pension they will receive, as well as lump sum payments they are entitled to upon retirement.




Key findings

  • In 2022-23, 20 leading civil servants who run UK government departments had an average pension pot of £1,105,000. Combined, these pension pots were worth £20,995,000. Of these, ten had pension pots worth more than the lifetime allowance currently set at £1,073,100.

  • Sir Philip Barton, permanent under-secretary at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office had the largest pension pot worth £2,016,000 in 2022-23.

  • Matthew Rycroft, permanent secretary at the Home Office had the largest accrued pension at £102,500. A further three received over £90,000 in accrued pensions.

  • The average pension upon retirement will be £65,921. This is more than double the average gross UK private sector salary in 2023.[6]

  • Ten of the senior civil servants analysed in this note will receive a lump sum upon retirement. The average lump sum was £131,500.

  • The top civil servants with the largest annual pensions are Matthew Rycroft, Tamara Finkelstein, Sir Philip Barton and Sir Christopher Wormald, the heads of the Home Office, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and Department of Health and Social Care respectively.





[1] HM Treasury, Whole of Government Accounts, 2020-21, 20 July 2023, p.13.

[2] HM Treasury, GDP deflators at market prices, and money GDP March 2023 (Quarterly National Accounts), 3 April 2023,, (accessed 09 November 2023).

[3] Office for National Statistics, Earnings and hours worked, UK region by public and private sector: ASHE Table 13.7a, 01 November 2023.

[4] Boileau, B. O’Brien, L & Zaranko, B., Public spending, pay and pensions, Institute for Fiscal Studies, 8 October 2022, p.34.

[5] Civil Service Pensioners’ Alliance, Civil service pensions set to rise by 6.7% from April as CPI inflation confirmed, 18 October 2023,, (accessed 23 November 2023).

[6] Office for National Statistics, Earnings and hours worked, UK region by public and private sector: ASHE Table 13.7a, 01 November 2023.

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