According to a new report, Time for Change published by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), ‘The British economic model needs fundamental reform.’
It is no longer generating rising earnings for a majority of the population, and young people today are set to be poorer than their parents. Beneath its headlines figures, the economy is suffering from deep and longstanding weaknesses, which make it unfit to face the challenges of the 2020s.
The report by the IPPR’s Commission on Economic Justice is an interim one, with the final report due in the latter part of next year. The commission was set up in 2016 and includes business leaders, such as the heads of John Lewis and Siemens, the TUC General Secretary, the Archbishop of Canterbury and other leading figures.
Commenting on the interim report, Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury said
Our economic model is broken. Britain stands at a watershed moment where we need to make fundamental choices about the sort of economy we need. We are failing those who will grow up into a world where the gap between the richest and poorest parts of the country is significant and destabilising
The report found that wages have stagnated for the majority of the population since the financial crisis of 2007/8. Wage income has fallen as a proportion of national income, while the proportions going to income from profits and property have risen. Young people are poorer than previous generations of young people.
Despite low unemployment, many people are on zero-hour contracts, part-time contracts or employed on a casual basis. For many, their jobs are insecure and they have no bargaining power.
The UK for many years has had a lower rate of investment that other developed economies and productivity, in terms of output per hour, is the lowest of its major competitors. Productivity in Germany is 36% higher than in the UK; in France and the USA it is 29% higher. Although there are some internationally competitive UK firms with high productivity, the country has:
a longer ‘tail’ of low-productivity businesses, in which weak management and poor use of skills leads to ‘bad jobs’ and low wages.
There are many other challenges, including an ageing population, uncertainties from Brexit, a large current account deficit, increased competition from abroad and growth once more in private-sector debt, which means that consumption may cease to be the main driver of economic growth as people seek to curb their borrowing.
The report is also critical of fiscal policy, which with record low interest rates could have been used to finance infrastructure projects as well as supporting public services.
The report recommends three approaches:
The first is institutional reform to support investment.
The second is making the economy more competitive through a coherent industrial strategy, reform of the financial sector to support long-term investment, reform of corporate governance to promote business success and tackling the market dominance of companies such as Amazon and Google.
The third is to bring greater social justice and equality through encouraging more secure and better-paid jobs, strengthening trades unions and reforming the tax system to make it fairer and smarter.
Not surprisingly the government has defended its record of reducing debt, presiding over falling unemployment and reduced inequality as measured by a reduced Gini coefficient. However, there has only been a modest fall in the Gini coefficient, from 0.333 in 2009/10 to 0.315 in 2016/7, and this has largely been the result of the very rich seeing a decline in income from assets.
Britain’s economy is broken and failing to tackle inequality, says major new report Independent, Ben Chu (6/9/17)
UK’s economic model is broken, says Archbishop of Canterbury The Guardian, Phillip Inman (5/9/17)
Tax wealth or see the UK tear itself apart, Cable will warn Bloomberg, Alex Morales and Thomas Penny (6/9/17)
Archbishop of Canterbury calls for radical economic reform BBC News (5/9/17)
Archbishop warns economy is “broken” as report reveals longest period of wage stagnation for 150 years Huffington Post, Rachel Wearmouth (6/9/17)
Britain’s economy is broken. We desperately need new ideas The Guardian, Tom Kibasi (4/6/17)
Carney: Britain is in the ‘first lost decade since the 1860s’, Business Insider, Oscar Williams-Grut (6/12/16)
Our broken economy, in one simple chart New York Times, David Leonhardt (7/8/16)
Time for Change: A new Vision for the British Economy IPPR Commission on Economic Justice (6/9/17)
- Why have wages for the majority of the UK population stagnated for the past 10 years?
- Why is productivity in the UK lower than in most other developed economies?
- Is it possible for poor people to become poorer and yet for the Gini coefficient to fall?
- What institutional reforms would you suggest to encourage greater investment?
- Explain the possible advantages and disadvantages of abandoning ‘austerity policy’ and adopting a more expansionist fiscal stance?
- Does it matter that Amazon and Google are dominant players in their respective markets? Explain.
According to the first estimate by the Office for National Statistics, the UK economy shrank by 0.3% in the final three months of 2012. This means that over the whole year growth was flat.
The biggest contributor to the fall in GDP in Q4 was the production industries, which include manufacturing. Output of the production sector fell by 1.8% in Q4. Construction sector output, by contrast, was estimated to have increased by 0.3%. Service sector output was flat. The chart below shows quarterly and annual growth in the UK from 2007 to 2012. (Click here for a PowerPoint.)
Latest estimates by the IMF are that the UK economy will grow by 1.0% in 2013 – well below the long-term growth in potential output (see also the last blog, High hopes in the Alps). But some forecasters are predicting that real GDP will continue to fall for at least one more quarter, which means that the economy would then be in a ‘triple-dip recession’.
Not surprisingly politicians have interpreted the statistics very differently, as have economists. The government, while recognising that the UK faces a ‘very difficult economic situation’, argues that now is not the time to change course and that by continuing with policies to reduce the deficit the economy will be placed on a firmer footing for sustained long-term growth
The opposition claims that the latest figures prove that the government’s policies are not working and that continuing attempts to bear down on the deficit are depressing aggregate demand and thereby keeping the economy depressed.
The following webcasts, podcasts and articles expand on these arguments. Try to be dispassionate in using economic analysis and evidence to assess the arguments.
Webcasts and podcasts
Video Summary: Gross Domestic Product Preliminary Estimate, Q4 2012 Media Briefing (Click here for the following Q&A) ONS (25/1/13)
Triple dip on the menu? Channel 4 News, Siobhan Kennedy and Faisal Islam (25/1/13)
Getting and spending – the key to recovery Channel 4 News, Cathy Newman (25/1/13)
UK economy shrinks by 0.3% in the last three months of 2012 BBC News, Hugh Pym (25/1/13)
Danny Alexander on GDP figures and economic plans BBC Daily Politics (25/1/13)
Osborne defends government’s deficit reduction plan BBC News (25/1/13)
Ed Balls: UK economy urgently needs a ‘Plan B’ BBC News (25/1/13)
UK heads for triple dip as GDP contracts 0.3pc The Telegraph, Philip Aldrick (25/1/13)
Economist: Government may need to rethink its fiscal policy The Telegraph, Jim O’Neill (25/1/13)
Has austerity really been tried in Britain? BBC Today Programme, Jonathan Portes and Andrew Lilico (29/1/13)
UK GDP: Economy shrank at end of 2012 BBC News (25/1/13)
UK GDP shrinks by 0.3% in fourth quarter: what the economists say The Guardian (25/1/13)
New Bank of England head Mark Carney hints at big shift in policy The Guardian (26/1/13)
The Bank of England, the chancellor, and the target BBC News. Stephanie Flanders (29/1/13)
The Entire World Of Economics Is Secretly Thankful To The UK Right Now Business Insider, Joe Weisenthal (26/1/13)
Gross Domestic Product: Preliminary Estimate, Q4 2012 ONS (25/1/13)
Video Summary: Gross Domestic Product Preliminary Estimate, Q4 2012 ONS (25/1/13)
Preliminary Estimate of GDP – Time Series Dataset 2012 Q4 ONS (25/1/13)
Business and Consumer Surveys DG ECFIN
- What are the reasons for the decline in GDP in 2012 Q4??
- Examine how likely it is that the UK will experience a triple-dip recession.
- What measures could be adopted to increase consumer and business confidence?
- If there is substantial spare capacity, is expansionary fiscal policy the best means of achieving economic growth?
- What additional monetary policy measures could be adopted to stimulate economic growth?
- Find out what has happened to the UK’s public-sector deficit and debt over the past three years. Explain what has happened.
New data released on 25/7/12 by the Office for National Statistics showed that the UK economy shrank by a further 0.7% in the second quarter of 2012. This makes it the third quarter in a row in which GDP has fallen – and it is the steepest fall of the three. Faced with this, should the government simply maintain the status quo, or does it need to take new action?
The construction sector declined the most steeply, with construction output 5.2% down on the previous quarter, which in turn was 4.9% down on the quarter previous to that. The output of the production industries as a whole fell by 1.3% and the service sector fell by 0.1%. (For a PowerPoint of the following chart, click here.)
The immediate cause of the decline in GDP has been a decline in real aggregate demand, but the reasons for this are several. Consumer demand has fallen because of the squeeze on real wages, partly the result of low nominal pre-tax wage increases and partly the result of inflation and tax rises; the government’s austerity programme is holding back a growth in government expenditure; export growth has been constrained by a slowing down in the global economy and especially in the eurozone, the UK’s major trading partner; and investment is being held back by the pessimism of investors about recovery in the economy and difficulties in raising finance.
So what can be done about it?
Monetary policy is already being used to stimulate demand, but to little effect (see Pushing on a string. Despite record low interest rates and a large increase in narrow money through quantitative easing, broad money is falling as bank lending remains low. This is caused partly by a reluctance of banks to lend as they seek to increase their capital and liquidity ratios, and partly by a reluctance of people to borrow as individuals seek to reduce their debts and as firms are pessimistic about investing. But perhaps even more quantitative easing might go some way to stimulating lending.
Fiscal policy might seem the obvious alternative. The problem here is that the government is committed to reducing the public-sector deficit and is worried that if it eases up on this commitment, this would play badly with credit rating agencies. Indeed, on 27/7/12, Standard & Poor’s, one of the three global credit rating agencies, confirmed the UK’s triple A rating, but stated that “We could lower the ratings in particular if the pace and extent of fiscal consolidation slows beyond what we currently expect.” Nevertheless, critics of the government maintain that this is a risk worth taking.
The following articles look at the causes of the current double-dip recession, the deepest and most prolonged for over 100 years. They also look at what options are open to the government to get the economy growing again.
Britain shrinks again The Economist (25/7/12)
Shock 0.7% fall in UK GDP deepens double-dip recession Guardian, Larry Elliott (25/7/12)
UK GDP figures: expert panel verdict Guardian, Frances O’Grady, Will Hutton, Sheila Lawlor, Vicky Pryce and John Cridland (25/7/12)
GDP shock fall: UK growth in 2012 ‘inconceivable’, warn economists The Telegraph, Angela Monaghan (25/7/12)
UK recession deepens after 0.7% fall in GDP BBC News (25/7/12)
UK economy: Why is it shrinking? BBC News (25/7/12)
UK GDP: A nasty surprise and a puzzle BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (25/7/12)
Tough choices for Mr Osborne BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (26/7/12)
David Cameron in pledge to control UK’s debt Independent, Andrew Woodcock and James Tapsfield (26/7/12)
David Cameron defends economic policies BBC News (26/7/12)
The GDP number is awful – and it’s the product of the Government’s amateur policies, not the euro crisis The Telegraph, Thomas Pascoe (25/7/12)
UK recession: have we heard it all before? Guardian, Duncan Weldon (25/7/12)
US economic growth slows in second quarter BBC News (27/7/12)
GDP data trigger debate on economy Financial Times, Norma Cohen and Sarah O’Connor (25/7/12)
Does weak UK growth warrant more QE? Financial Times (25/7/12)
The recession: Osborne’s mess Guardian editorial (25/7/12)
Gross Domestic Product, Preliminary Estimate, Q2 2012 ONS (25/7/12)
Preliminary Estimate of GDP – Time Series Dataset 2012 Q2 ONS (25/7/12)
- What are the causes of the deepening of the current recession in the UK?
- Search for data on other G7 countries and compare the UK’s performance with that of the other six countries (see, for example, the OECD’s StatExtracts.
- Compare the approach of George Osborne with that of Neville Chamberlain in 1932, during the Great Depression.
- Does weak UK growth warrant more quantitative easing by the Bank of England?
- To what extent can fiscal policy be used to stimulate the economy without deepening the public-sector deficit in the short term?
- What is meant by ‘crowding out’? If fiscal policy were used to stimulate demand, to what extent would this cause crowding out?