Public sector employment, UK: March 2021

Estimates of people employed in the public and private sectors in the UK.

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Release date:
15 June 2021

Next release:
14 September 2021

1. Main points

  • Total public sector employment (PSE) continued to rise in March 2021 after increasing throughout 2020, partly because of the response of the National Health Service (NHS) and the Civil Service to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

  • There were an estimated 5.67 million employees in the public sector for March 2021, an increase of 72,000 (1.3%) compared with December 2020 and an increase of 206,000 (3.8%) compared with March 2020; excluding the transfer of train operating companies to the public sector in June 2020, total PSE increased by 160,000 (3.0%) compared with March 2020.

  • Employment in central government increased to an estimated 3.47 million for March 2021, up 77,000 (2.3%) compared with December 2020 and up 169,000 (5.1%) compared with March 2020; the main contributors to this increase were the NHS, the Civil Service and local authority schools becoming academies.

  • The NHS employed an estimated 1.84 million people in March 2021, an increase of 44,000 (2.5%) compared with December 2020 and an increase of 92,000 (5.3%) compared with March 2020; the response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has driven this increase on the previous quarter and the previous year.

  • Employment in the Home Civil Service continued to increase in March 2021, partly in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and partly because of recruitment for the 2021 Census; at 505,000 the Home Civil Service was up 32,000 (6.8%) compared with December 2020 and 49,000 (10.7%) compared with March 2020.

  • Employment in the Department for Work and Pensions increased by 5,910 compared with December 2020 and 12,650 compared with March 2020 to meet demand for Universal Credit during the coronavirus pandemic; from December 2020 to March 2021 the UK Statistics Authority employed an additional 19,000 temporary staff to undertake the 2021 Census.

  • Employment in local government was an estimated 2.01 million and little changed on the previous quarter and previous year; this was down 4,000 (0.2%) compared with December 2020 and down 6,000 (0.3%) compared with March 2020.

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2. Public sector employment data

Public sector employment
Dataset | Released 15 June 2021
Quarterly estimates of UK and regional public sector employment, made up of central government (including Civil Service), local government and public corporations. The estimates also include a breakdown by industry.

Public sector employment time series
Dataset | Dataset ID: PSE | Released 15 June 2021
Seasonally adjusted and non-seasonally adjusted quarterly time series of UK public sector employment, containing the latest estimates.

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3. Measuring the data


View more information on how labour market data sources are affected by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, published on 6 May 2020.

View a comparison of our labour market data sources and the main differences, published on 11 December 2020.

Impact on production of public sector employment estimates

The collection of the data contained in this release was unaffected by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Comments provided by survey respondents suggested the estimates were partly affected by coronavirus planning and response.


The main source of public sector employment (PSE) is the Quarterly Public Sector Employment Survey, which is supplemented by data from external sources. Further information can be found in the PSE Quality and Methodology Information (QMI).

The total employment and private sector series included in this publication are derived from the Labour Force Survey (LFS).  LFS responses are weighted to official 2018-based population projections on demographic trends that pre-date the coronavirus pandemic. In Coronavirus and the impact on payroll employment we analyse the population totals used in the LFS weighting process and state our intention to make adjustments. Rates published from the LFS remain robust; however, levels and changes in levels should be used with caution.

Full-time equivalents

While this bulletin focuses on headcount estimates of PSE, full-time equivalent estimates (based on the number of hours worked divided by the standard full-time hours) are available in the accompanying PSE datasets.

Seasonal adjustment

All PSE data time series in this release, with the exception of the regional series, are seasonally adjusted to aid interpretation. Relationships that hold in the unadjusted series do not necessarily hold for the seasonally adjusted series. For example, total PSE equals the total of all public sector industry estimates before seasonal adjustment, but this is not necessarily true after seasonal adjustment.

Reclassifications between the public and private sectors

Comparisons of public and private sector employment over time are complicated by several major reclassifications, where bodies employing large numbers of people have moved between the public and private sectors. We produce estimates of public and private sector employment excluding the effects of major reclassifications to help you understand underlying trends in employment. We publish these alongside estimates of total public and private sector employment in Tables 5, 6a and 7a of the PSE datasets.


More quality and methodology information on strengths, limitations, appropriate uses, and how the data were created is available in the Public sector employment QMI.

Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR) publishing review

The Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR) is undertaking a review into whether the 9:30am release time stated in the Code of Practice for Statistics meets the needs of users. During the pandemic, exemptions were granted to allow the release of market sensitive statistics at 7:00am. The OSR welcomes views about the release time of official statistics by Friday 25 June 2021, please send comments to:

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Contact details for this Statistical bulletin

Neil Hedges
Telephone: +44 (0)1633 456741