The civil service: a growing problem

NOTE: The original version of this research paper stated that the top three grade levels receive between £73,000 and £208,100. This has now been corrected.



Between 2016 and 2023 the number of civil servants increased by 101,440, a jump of 24.2 per cent and the largest increase in at least half a century. This paper analyses that increase, concluding that the expansion has been top-heavy, London-centric, and tilted away from operational delivery. It also highlights the marked salary grade inflation that has taken place within the service, further increasing the cost to taxpayers. While covid rather than Brexit was the prime driver of headcount increases, further growth since March 2022 shows that civil service numbers are not falling following the end of mass testing and covid emergency measures.


Key findings

  • Between March 2016 and March 2023 civil service employment increased from 418,340 to 519,780, a jump of 101,440 or 24.2 per cent – the sharpest increase in at least 50 years. This is greater than the entire regular forces of the British Army, which were only 83,209 in October 2022.[1]

  • The expansion has been top-heavy, with 87 per cent of the increase being accounted for by growth in the top three grade levels. There was an actual decrease in the lowest – and previously most numerous – grade level.

  • The largest increase has been in London with an additional 25,505 posts, a growth of 33 per cent.

  • The overall staffing structure has been tilted away from operational delivery and towards policy and support functions. Operational delivery – frontline services– fell from 56 per cent of total staff to 52 per cent.

  • Grade inflation and pay awards nearly tripled the number of civil servants being paid over £75,000 a year, from 4,470 to 12,045. In addition, 2,050 were paid more than £100,000 and 195 more than £150,000.

  • The median average civil service salary increased by 26 per cent over the period.

  • The annual salary bill for full-time staff has increased by 59.8 per cent from March 2016 to March 2023, rising from £9.7 billion to £15.5 billion.[2]

  • It is estimated that the combined effect of higher staff numbers, grade inflation, and pay awards increased the total annual civil service salary bill to £17.8 billion between March 2016 to March 2023, a rise of 54.8 per cent. This is almost double the growth rate of nominal GDP over the same period.



[1] Quarterly Service Personnel Statistics 2022, (accessed 7th June 2023).

[2] Some figures may not sum due to rounding.

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