Social Security Experience Panels: agency recruitment

This report considers views on recruitment processes, perceptions of the Civil Service and how recruitment can be made more accessible.

Working for the Civil Service

In addition to understanding the general barriers for disabled people seeking employment, we wanted to find out how perceptions of the Civil Service as a whole could impact on people's decision whether or not to apply for a role in Social Security Scotland.

Focus group participants were asked for their perceptions of the Civil Service, both positive and negative, and whether this would influence their decision whether to apply for a Civil Service job.

Perceptions of the Civil Service

Many participants viewed working for the Civil Service positively. They felt the Civil Service was 'well paid', 'a good place to work' and a 'job for life'. They thought the Civil Service offered a 'fantastic pension' and was reasonably flexible in terms of accommodating disabilities. Some participants said they would feel proud if their child or a young relative got a job in the Civil Service.

'They've just come out of university and college. Their parents are so proud and they've got a job in the civil service and they get a fantastic pension…'

Participants who had past experience of working within the Civil Service highlighted positive experiences of their disability or health condition being accommodated:

'I work for an NDPB[10] which is sort of civil service […] a good thing was in terms of my mental health. They did make some effort. How genuine that was I don't know but they did make a decent amount of effort to try and keep me in the organisaiton.'

Some participants gave examples of specific times they felt a civil servant had been particularly helpful.

'You do occasionally get the ones who go out of their way [to help], but they tend to be the older, long term protected workers…'

Other participants told us of their negative perceptions of the Civil Service. They used words such as 'wasteful', 'opinionated', 'bureaucratic' and 'inflexible'. When describing Civil Servants themselves, they described them as 'dismissive', 'robotic' and that they act as if they are 'above you, talking down'. Some viewed Civil Servants as 'unreliable', saying they wil call you at a certain time or do things, and then never doing so. One participant felt that 'you only get in if you know someone who works there'.

Participants also described the culture of the civil service as 'target-driven' to the detriment of those who interact with the service itself. The 'target-driven' nature of the service was seen to be particuarly problematic for social security, where participants felt it meant calls were cut short, assessments weren't taking as long as they needed to and staff were generally unwilling to give clients the time they needed.

Where do perceptions come from

Participant's perceptions of the Civil Service came from many places: the media, friends and family and their interactions with civil servants themselves. When asked if their perceptions of civil servants differed between government departments, participants tended to say no and instead formed views of the Civil Service as a whole. Some participants made a distinction between the civil service of the UK, Scotland and local authority workers (though some did not). As all participants who took part in this study had experience of the benefits system, it is highly likely that many of the perceptions held by participants stemmed from interactions with the DWP. A small number of participants did identify specific experiences with other departments, such as the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA).

'My dealings with the DVLA - quite difficult to deal with, [I was] passed from pillar to post…'

Some participants did feel there were differences between Scottish Government civil servants and those from the Westminster departments. Much of these differences appeared to be based on politics or government policy rather than actual experiences with civil servants themselves.

'I think there's a two-pronged civil service – Scottish and Westminster and they're different. Scottish Government is more open and transparent, I don't trust anything from Westminster, there's a big element of trust there.'

For Social Security Scotland specifically, participants said they felt the agency represented a 'fresh start' and was about 'doing things differently'. Relatively few participants had perceptions about the agency or its staff.

When asked if their perceptions would influence their decision as to apply for a Civil Service job in the future, such as with Social Security Scotland, participants were mixed. Many participants had not considered the Civil Service as a potential employer. Some participants said their perceptions would motivate them to apply for a job so that they could have a positive influence on the culture of the service:

'Yes, to sort it out. I want to be there to change it.'

For others, the positive aspects of a Civil Service career (such as pensions or job flexibility) meant they would also be interested in applying for future jobs.

However for many participants, other factors such as accessible recruitment methods, flexible employment practices and a disability positive organisational culture was of greater importance when considering the Civil Service as an employer.


Email: James.Miller@gov.Scot

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