Pre-crisis, UK government spending was around 40% of national income. This level was not particularly high, either by the UK’s own historical standards or by international standards. However, over the financial crisis, the UK government experienced a particularly large increase in spending as a share of national income.
In 2014, the UK was not an outlier by international standards in terms of government spending as a share of national income. UK total government disbursements, as measured by the OECD, were 44% of national income. As shown in Figure 1, this gave the UK the fourteenth highest level of public spending as a proportion of national income out of the 31 countries for which the OECD has consistent data, and the third highest out of the G7 countries.
Figure 1. Total public spending in OECD countries, 2014 [Download the data]
Figure 1 masks the different path of government spending in the UK relative to other developed countries. If the snapshot shown in Figure 1 had been taken 10 years earlier, the UK would have appeared to have relatively lower spending as a share of national income. Figure 2 therefore shows how the changes in government spending as a proportion of national income in the UK between 1970 and 2014 compared with the experience of a selection of other countries.
Figure 2. Total public spending as a share of national income in selected countries, 1970 to 2014 (%) [Download the data]