The civil service is one of the largest employers in the country, with a workforce of about 445,000 people across the UK. The class composition of the senior ranks of the civil service has barely changed since 1967, research reveals. Within the civil service, the higher you progress, the less likely you are to find people from lower socio-economic backgrounds.
just 12% of senior Treasury staff coming from low socio-economic backgrounds. Overall, only 18% of the 6,000-strong cohort of senior civil servants come from disadvantaged backgrounds, while 25% of this group was independently educated.
In order to be successful, the research notes, civil servants need to master this behavioural code. It involves using an RP accent (received pronunciation, the middle class accent of southern England); adopting an “emotionally detached and understated self-presentation”; and displaying “an intellectual approach to culture and politics that prizes the display of in-depth knowledge for its own sake (and not directly related to work)”.
“Those from low socio-economic backgrounds find this code alienating and intimidating but one which they must assimilate in order to succeed,” concludes the report.
The path to senior positions is like a labyrinth: in theory there is a route to the centre for everyone but it is largely hidden. Although formal promotion protocols are sensitive to issues of diversity and inclusion, interviewees said mastery of a series of “unwritten rules” provided the most effective map through the labyrinth.
Sam Friedman, the report’s author and incoming professor of sociology at the LSE explained, “Strikingly it is those from privileged backgrounds who hold the upper hand in unpicking these hidden rules.”
In 1967, analysis showed the proportion of senior civil servants from lower socio-economic backgrounds was higher than it is today (19% in 1967, compared with 18% today).