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UK National Debt
16:41 03.08.2010
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The UK national debt is the total amount of money the British government owes to the private sector and other purchasers of UK gilts.
From figures published May 2010, UK public sector net debt was £903.0 billion. (or 62.2% of National GDP) – Source: Office National Statistics [1] (page updated June 18, 2010)
Excluding Financial sector intervention, public sector debt is £771 billion or (54% per cent of GDP)
The PBR (annual government borrowing) forecast for 2009/10 is for net borrowing of £178 billion or 12.6% of GDP.
Graph Showing UK National Debt
National debt UK
National debt UK : ONS
After a period of financial restraint, National debt at a % of GDP fell to 29% of GDP by 2002. Then, national Debt as a % of GDP  increased from 30% in 2002 to 37 % in 2007. This was despite the long period of economic expansion. It was primarily due to the governments decision to increase spending on health and education. There has also been a marked rise in social security spending.
Since 2008, National Debt has increased sharply  because of:
  • Economics Recession (lower tax receipts, higher spending on unemployment benefits)
  • Financial bailout of Northern Rock, RBS and other banks.
Although 60% of GDP is alot it is worth bearing in mind, that other countries have a much bigger problem. Japan for example have a National debt of 194%, Italy is over 100%.  The US national debt is close to 71% of GDP. [See other countries Debt]. Also the UK has had much higher National Debt. e.g. after the second world war it was over 180% of GDP.
National Debt and Financial BailoutThe Nationalisation of Bradford & Bingley and Government purchase of shares in major banks like HBOS will cause even more borrowing. It is estimated National debt will could rise close to 100% of GDP by 2012
It is way above the government’s sustainable investment rule of 40% maximum. However, the debt is  different in the sense that the government has a reasonable chance of getting, at least, some of its money back. It is different to say borrowing to pay pensions.

What is the Real Level of UK National Debt?However, it is argued that UK’s national debt is actually a lot higher. This is because national debt should include pension contributions and private finance initiatives PFI which the government are obliged to pay.
The Centre for Policy Studies (at end of 2008) argues that the real national debt is actually £1,340 billion, which is 103.5 per cent of GDP. This figure includes all the public sector pension liabilities such as pensions, and Private Finance Initiative contracts e.t.c (Northern Rock liabilities).
  • However, these pension liabilities are not things the government are actually spending now. Therefore, there is no need to borrow for them yet. It is more of a guide to future public sector debt. I don’t accept the fact that future pension liabilities should be counted as public sector debt. In 2006, the Statistics Office did change calculations to include some PFI into public sector debt figures [pdf - Treasury.gov.uk]
  • However, it is a sign that it will be difficult to improve finances in the future.
Another problem is that with the financial crisis, the government have added an extra £500bn of potential liabilities. Note: the Government has offered to back mortgage securities. They are unlikely to spend this money. But, in theory the government could be liable for extra debts of upto £500bn. If we include this bailout package as a contingent liability National debt would be well over 100% of GDP.
Forecast for National Debt
net-borrowing
Source: HM Treasury – may prove to be overly optimistic
The Public Borrowing Requirement forecast for 2009/10 is net borrowing of £178 billion.
Problems of National Debt
  1. Interest Payments. The cost of paying interest on the government’s debt is very high. In 2008 Debt interest payments will be £31 billion a year (est 2.5% of GDP). In 2009, they will be £35 billion (similar to defence budget). Public sector debt interest payments could be be the 4th highest department after social security, health and education.
  2. Higher Taxes in the future.
  3. Crowding out of private sector investment / spending
  4. The debt problem will only get worse as an ageing population places greater strain on the UK’s pension liabilities. (demographic time bomb)
  5. Negative impact on Exchange Rate (link)
See also:
History of National Debt
national debt as % of GDP
national debt as % of GDP: Source: no 10.gov.uk
National Debt since 1900

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