Public sector employment hits ‘post-WWII low’

Public sector employment has hit an all-time low, with a 1.1% drop on the previous year.

The latest figures, for September, show that public employment is 16% down on its peak in 2009. Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) also found that employment in local government was 12,000 lower than in June of this year at 2.257 million – the lowest level since the beginning of the data series in 1999.

But Mark Beatson, chief economist at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, said this drop was less than expected.

“With the Spending Review likely to require far fewer job cuts than anticipated, public sector employers might find the coming months less challenging than feared, even if the 1% pay ceiling does affect their ability to recruit and retain key staff,” he added.

For the central government category as a whole (including the NHS and defence), although levels are not at their lowest, departments still shed 2,000 jobs in the last six months.

In the Civil Service, employment dropped by 6,000 jobs. According to the ONS, this was largely driven by reductions in the Department for Work and Pensions, which slashed 4,630 posts.

In its own analysis of this data, the Civil Service said figures reached “a new post-World War II low”, with the sector shrinking by 23% overall since March 2010.

However, it said representation of women, people with disabilities and ethnic minorities is at a “historic high”, with women making up more than half of the workforce. But this is an increase of less than 1 percentage point from five years ago.

It also said the gender pay gap for full time employees is at its lowest recorded level at almost 10%, with the amount of women across more senior grades increasing.

Regions and sectors

Employment drops were prevalent all across the UK, as every region but London saw decreases in their public staff pool. Wales was particularly hard hit, with a decrease of nearly 20,000 employees between September 2014 and this year – although this was partly explained by the reclassification of 12,000 employees in Welsh further education colleges into the private sector.

But even in London, the only region to see an increase, employment levels only increased marginally by 0.1% over the last year.

Similarly, in the NHS, the only public sector force to increase its headcount, employment levels rose by only 0.2% compared to the previous quarter, and 1.1% in comparison to last year.

Elsewhere, in education, public administration, police, construction and other health and social work not covered by the NHS, employment dropped quite sharply.

This was particularly relevant to the construction and health and social work sectors, with the former dropping by 12.8% and the latter by 6.5% compared to the previous year.

Public sector jobs had already hit an all-time low in July of this year, when the number of employees reached 5.37 million. They now stand at 5.35 million.

But the sector has seen nothing yet, with the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) estimating that more than 100,000 jobs are expected to be slashed over the course of this Parliament.

However the OBR acknowledged that this prediction is 300,000 less than projected in July, following increases to spending plans and the government’s decision to limit public sector pay awards to 1% a year over the period.

Meanwhile, the private sector staff pool has ballooned by 565,000 more employees compared to September of last year after rising every quarter since December 2011 – now reaching its highest recorded level in the series.


Biggles   17/12/2015 at 13:36

Hooray, are we getting rid of equality advisors, green champions and LGBT promotors so that those left are actually in productive work?

Add your comment

public sector executive tv

more videos >

latest news

View all News


Peter Kyle MP: It’s time to say thank you this Public Service Day

21/06/2019Peter Kyle MP: It’s time to say thank you this Public Service Day

Taking time to say thank you is one of the hidden pillars of a society. Bei... more >
How community-led initiatives can help save the housing shortage

19/06/2019How community-led initiatives can help save the housing shortage

Tom Chance, director at the National Community Land Trust Network, argues t... more >

editor's comment

25/10/2017Take a moment to celebrate

Devolution, restructuring and widespread service reform: from a journalist’s perspective, it’s never been a more exciting time to report on the public sector. That’s why I could not be more thrilled to be taking over the reins at PSE at this key juncture. There could not be a feature that more perfectly encapsulates this feeling of imminent change than the article James Palmer, mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, has penned for us on p28. In it, he highlights... read more >

last word

Prevention: Investing for the future

Prevention: Investing for the future

Rob Whiteman, CEO at the Chartered Institute of Public Finance (CIPFA), discusses the benefits of long-term preventative investment. Rising demand, reducing resource – this has been the r more > more last word articles >


Artificial intelligence: the devil is in the data

17/12/2018Artificial intelligence: the devil is in the data

It’s no secret that the public sector and its service providers need ... more >

the raven's daily blog

Cleaner, greener, safer media: Increased ROI, decreased carbon

23/06/2020Cleaner, greener, safer media: Increased ROI, decreased carbon

Evolution is crucial in any business and Public Sector Executive is no different. Long before Covid-19 even became a thought in the back of our minds, the team at PS... more >
read more blog posts from 'the raven' >

public sector events

events calendar


August 2020

mon tue wed thu fri sat sun
27 28 29 30 31 1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30
31 1 2 3 4 5 6

featured articles

View all News