ICAEW chart of the week: GDP over five years

My chart for ICAEW this week looks at how negative economic growth per capita over the last five years may have contributed to the recent change in government.

GDP over five years. 
ICAEW chart of the week. 

Step (waterfall) chart showing the changes in quarterly GDP in 2019 Q1 and 2024 Q1. 

2019 Q1: £549bn 

+ Inflation: +£120bn (+4.0% per year) 

+ Population: +£22bn (+0.6% per year) 

+ Growth per capita: -£3bn (-0.1% per year) 

= 2024 Q1: £688bn

11 Jul 2024.   Chart by Martin Wheatcroft FCA. Design by Sunday. 

Source: ONS, ‘UK quarterly national accounts: Jan-Mar 2024’. 

© ICAEW 2024

My chart this week is on the change in quarterly GDP over the past five years, analysing the change between GDP as calculated by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) of £549bn in the first quarter of 2019 and £688bn in the first quarter of 2024, a net increase of £139bn.

Inflation, at 4% a year on average over the past five years, was the largest contributor to the change, being £120bn out of £139bn of the increase. An increase in population of more than 0.6% a year added a further £22bn, but this was offset by £3bn from negative economic growth per capita of 0.1% on average over the past five years.

Breaking down the £19bn change resulting from economic growth (0.5% a year on average), between population change and economic growth per capita in this way highlights how net inward migration has been one of the most significant drivers of the UK economy over the past five years. 

While there are multiple reasons why the electorate decided to vote in a new government in the recent UK general election, the £41 reduction in quarterly GDP per capita over the past five years after adjusting for inflation – and the associated drop in living standards – to £9,994 per person in 2024 Q1 is likely to have been one of them.

The good news is that the next five years may be better, with monthly GDP up by 0.40% over the course of April and May 2024. This can be broken down between an estimated population growth of 0.16% and an increase in monthly GDP per capita over the two months of 0.24%, a positive sign, especially in the light of the latest ICAEW Business Confidence Monitor reporting that business confidence has risen to its highest level in over two years.

This chart was originally published by ICAEW.

New government to inherit tough public finances

Public sector net debt has passed £2.7tn for the first time. In May the debt increased by £49bn from £2,694bn to £2,743bn, 51% higher than it was in March 2020 at the start of the pandemic.

The monthly public sector finances for May 2024 released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on Friday 21 June 2024 reported a provisional deficit for the first two months of the 2024/25 financial year of £33.5bn, £1.5bn better than the £35.0bn predicted by the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) and £0.4bn higher than in April and May 2023.

An ICAEW spokesperson said: “Today’s numbers show that public sector net debt continues to grow, up from £2.69tn in April to £2.74tn in May, the first time it has exceeded £2.7tn.

“Net debt is now 51% higher than it was at the start of the pandemic in March 2020, and 167% higher than it was in March 2010, pushed up by the spikes in spending during the pandemic and to offset energy bills, as well as borrowing to fund day-to-day spending and investment. High borrowing costs and the financial consequences of more people living longer mean that the public finances are significantly weaker and less resilient than they were 14 years ago.

“When the country goes to the polls on 4 July, the reality is that whoever wins power will inherit an extremely challenging fiscal position that will hamper their ability to turn the country around.”

Month of May 2024

Taxes and other receipts amounted to £85.1bn in May 2024, up 2% compared with the same month last year, while total managed expenditure was also 2% higher at £100.1bn.

The resulting fiscal deficit of £15.0bn for the month was £0.8bn higher than in May 2023.

Financial year to date

As summarised in Table 1, total receipts in April and May 2024 of £170.4bn were 2% higher than in the same two months last year, with the cuts to employee national insurance rates offset by higher income tax, corporation tax, and non-tax receipts.

Table 1: Summary receipts and spending

Two months toMay 2024
May 2023
Income tax38.236.8+4%
National insurance25.928.2-8%
Corporation tax16.615.5+7%
Other taxes36.035.2+2%
Other receipts19.818.5+7%
Total receipts170.4167.8+2%

Public services



Debt interest(21.4)(21.6)-1%
Gross investment(17.6)(17.9)-2%
Total spending(203.9)(200.9)+1%





Table 1 also shows how total managed expenditure for the two months of £203.9bn was up by more than 1% compared with April and May 2023, with higher spending on public services and welfare offset by lower energy-support subsidies and marginally lower debt interest. The latter was driven by significantly lower indexation on inflation-linked debt offsetting the much higher rates of interest payable on variable rate and refinanced fixed-rate debt.

Table 2: Public sector net debt 

Two months toMay 2024
May 2023
Other borrowing(10.2)2.1
Debt movement(43.7)(31.0)
Opening net debt(2,699.2)(2,539.7)
Closing net debt(2,742.9)(2,570.7)

Net debt/GDP



Public sector net debt as of 31 May 2024 was £2,743bn or 99.8% of GDP, just under £44bn higher than at the start of the financial year. The increase reflects borrowing to fund the deficit of £33.5bn and £10.2bn borrowed to fund lending by government and other cash requirements, net of loan recoveries.

Public sector net debt was £172bn or 7% higher than a year previously, and 3.7 percentage points higher in relation to the size of the economy.

Public sector net debt is £928bn or 51% more than the £1,815bn reported for 31 March 2020 at the start of the pandemic and £1,715bn or 167% more than the £1,028bn net debt amount as of 31 March 2007 before the financial crisis, reflecting the huge sums borrowed over the last 14 years.

Public sector net worth, the new balance sheet metric launched by the ONS in 2023, was -£726bn on 31 May 2024, comprising £1,613bn in non-financial assets and £1,074bn in non-liquid financial assets minus £2,743bn of net debt (£300bn liquid financial assets – £3,043bn public sector gross debt) and other liabilities of £670bn. This is a £47bn deterioration from the start of the financial year and is £95bn more negative than the -£631bn net worth number for May 2023.

Revisions and other matters

Caution is needed with respect to the numbers published by the ONS, which are expected to be repeatedly revised as estimates are refined and gaps in the underlying data are filled. 

The latest release saw the ONS reduce the reported deficit for April 2024 by £2.1bn from £20.5bn to £18.4bn and revise the deficit for the year to March 2024 up by £0.7bn from £121.4bn to £122.1bn as estimates of tax receipts and expenditure were updated for better data.

This article was originally published by ICAEW.

ICAEW chart of the week: Global military spending

While the UK commits to increasing its defence and security expenditure, our chart this week looks at military spending around the world, which has reached $2.4trn.

Column chart

Global military spending
ICAEW chart of the week

Column 1: NATO

USA $916bn
UK $75bn
Rest of NATO $360bn
Total $1,351bn

Column 2: SCO and CSTO

China $296bn
Russia $109bn
India and other $106bn
Total $511bn

Column 3: Rest of the world

Other US allies $304bn
Ukraine $65bn
Other countries $212bn
Total $581bn

25 April 2024.
Chart by Martin Wheatcroft FCA. Design by Sunday.

Source: SIPRI Military Expenditure Database. Excludes Cuba, North Korea, Syria and Yemen.

© ICAEW 2024

Our chart this week is based on the latter, with SIPRI reporting that global military expenditure has increased to $2,443bn in 2023, a 6.8% increase after adjusting for currency movements. SIPRI’s numbers are based on publicly available information, which means that some countries may be spending even more on their militaries that are included in the database. SIPRI was unable to obtain numbers for military spending by Cuba, North Korea, Syria, Yemen, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Somalia, Eritrea, Djibouti, and Laos.

Military spending is the news this week following the announcement by the UK government that it will commit to spending 2.5% of GDP on defence and security, the recent vote by the US Congress to provide $95bn in military aid to Ukraine ($61bn), Israel ($26bn) and Taiwan and others in the Indo-Pacific ($8bn), and the release of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) Military Expenditure Database for 2023.

More than half of that spending is incurred by NATO, with total military spending of $1,351bn, comprising $916bn by the US, $75bn by the UK and $360bn by other NATO members. Of the latter, $307bn was spent by the 23 members of the EU that are also members of NATO (including $67bn by Germany, $61bn by France, $36bn by Italy, $32bn by Poland and $24bn by Spain), while $53bn was spent by the other seven members (including $27bn by Canada and $16bn by Türkiye).

The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) are partially overlapping economic and military alliances convened by China and Russia respectively. China has the biggest military with $296bn spent in 2023, while Russia spent $109bn and other members spent $106bn (of which India spent $84bn).

We have categorised the rest of the world between other US allies which spent $304bn in 2023 (including $76bn by Saudi Arabia, $50bn by non-US members of the Rio Pact, $50bn by Japan, $48bn by South Korea, $32bn by Australia, $27bn by Israel and $17bn by Taiwan), Ukraine which spent $65bn, and $212bn spent by other countries for which SIPRI has data.

The numbers do not take account of the differences in purchasing power, particularly on salaries. That means China and India, for example, can employ many more soldiers, sailors and aircrew than NATO countries can for the same amount of money.

The Ukraine number also excludes $35bn in military spending funded by the US ($25bn) and other partners ($10bn) during 2023 that was not part of its national budget.

Global military spending is expected to increase further in 2024 as the international security situation deteriorates. This includes NATO members that plan to increase their defence and security spending to meet or exceed the 2% of GDP NATO minimum guideline set in 2014 to be achieved by 2024.

This includes the UK, which now plans to increase its spending on defence and security from 2.35% of GDP in 2023/24 to 2.5% of GDP by 2028/29, with suggestions from defence sources that setting a target of 3% of GDP may be necessary at some point in the next decade.

This chart was originally published by ICAEW.

ICAEW chart of the week: IMF Fiscal Monitor

Our chart this week finds that the UK is ranking highly in the IMF’s latest five-year forecasts for general government net debt.

Bar chart

General government net debt/GDP: 2029 forecast

Emerging and developing economies (green bars)
World (purple bar)
Advanced economies (blue bar)
UK (red bar)

Kazakhstan (green) 8%
Canada (blue) 13%
Saudi Arabia (green) 22%
Iran (green) 23%
Australia (blue) 24%
South Korea (blue) 29%
Türkiye (green) 30%
Indonesia (green) 37%
Germany (blue) 43%
Netherlands (blue) 43%
Nigeria (green) 47%
Mexico (green) 51%
Poland (green) 55%
Egypt (green) 56%
Pakistan (green) 61%
Brazil (green) 70%
World (purple) 79%
South Africa (green) 84%
Spain (blue) 92%
UK (red) 98%
France (blue) 107%
US (blue) 108%
Italy (blue) 136%
Japan (blue) 153%

18 Apr 2024.
Chart by Martin Wheatcroft FCA. Design by Sunday.
Source: IMF Fiscal Monitor: 17 Apr 2024.

©️ ICAEW 2024

The International Money Fund (IMF) released its latest IMF Fiscal Monitor on 17 April 2024, highlighting how public debts and deficits are higher than before the pandemic and public debts are expected to remain high. The IMF says: “Amid mounting debt, now is the time to bring back sustainable public finances”, commenting that as prospects for a global economic soft landing have improved, it is time for action to bring government finances back under control. 

Our chart this week illustrates how the UK is one of the ‘leading’ nations in government borrowing, with general government net debt projected by the IMF to reach 98% of GDP by 2029, compared with 92.5% in 2023. (Note: general government net debt is different to the public sector net debt measure used in the UK public finances – the latter includes the Bank of England and other public corporations.)

The chart illustrates how the major countries with the largest debt burdens tend to be advanced economies, with Spain (92% of GDP), the UK (98%), France (107%), US (108%), Italy (136%) and Japan (153%) having debt levels close to, or exceeding, the sizes of their economies.

Some countries are in much better fiscal positions, with Germany expected to bring its general government net debt down to 43% of GDP by 2029, while the Netherlands (43%), South Korea (29%), Australia (24%) and Canada (13%) also have relatively low levels of public debt compared with other advanced economies.

Emerging market ‘middle-income’ and ‘low-income’ developing countries often have much lower levels of public debt than advanced countries, often simply because it is more difficult for them to borrow to the same extent as well as not having the same scale of welfare provision as richer countries to finance. Examples include Kazakhstan (projected to have a general government debt of 8% of GDP in 2029), Saudi Arabia (22%), Iran (23%), Türkiye (30%) and Indonesia (37%). However, that does not stop some emerging and developing countries borrowing more, such as Nigeria (47%), Mexico (51%), Poland (55%), Egypt (56%), Pakistan (61%), Brazil (70%) and South Africa (84%).

Not shown in the chart are China and India for which no net debt numbers are available. The IMF projects them to have general government gross debt in 2029 of 110% and 78% of GDP respectively, indicating how their public debts have grown substantially in recent years. However, without knowing their levels of cash holdings it is less clear where they stand in the rankings.

Also not shown is Norway, the only country with negative general government net debt reported by the IMF. Norway’s general government net cash is projected to reach 139% of GDP in 2029, up from 99% in 2023.

As with all metrics, there are some issues in comparing the circumstances of individual countries. Many countries will also have investments, other public assets, or natural resource rights that are not netted off against debt, while many will also have other liabilities or financial commitments that aren’t counted within debt. For example, the UK has significant liabilities for unfunded public sector pensions as well as even larger financial commitments to the state pension, either of which, if included, would move the UK above the US in the rankings.

The IMF believes that as the world recovers from the pandemic and inflation is brought under control, it is important for countries to start tackling the deficits in the public finances and start bringing down the level of public debt. 

This may be difficult for countries such as the UK where significant pressures on the public finances mean public debt is expected to increase over the medium term rather than fall.

This chart was originally published by ICAEW.

ICAEW chart of the week: Public spending crunch

Public spend as a share of the economy must fall over the next five years to make the sums add up – a big challenge for the next government.

Step chart:

Public spending crunch
ICAEW chart of the week

Change in total public spending compared to change in nominal GDP

2025/26: -1.1%
2026/27: -0.7%
2027/28: -1.1%
2028/29: -0.7%
Cumulative: -3.6%

11 April 2024.
Chart by Martin Wheatcroft FCA. Design by Sunday.

Sources: HM Treasury, 'Spring Budget 2024'; OBR, 'Economic and Fiscal Outlook 2024'; ICAEW calculations.

©️ ICAEW 2024

My recently published in-depth Fiscal Insight into the Spring Budget 2024 highlights how the UK’s public finances are in a weak position, with difficult choices on spending deferred and post-election tax rises likely, irrespective of who wins the general election.

My chart for ICAEW this week illustrates how total public spending is forecast to fall by 3.6% as a share of national income between the first and final year of the fiscal forecast. This is equivalent to a 1.6 percentage point reduction in total managed expenditure from a budget of 44% of GDP in 2024/25 to a forecast of 42.4% of GDP in 2028/29.

At a reduction of 1.1% in 2025/26, 0.7% in 2026/27, 1.1% in 2027/28 and 0.7% in 2028/29, this may not sound that large – after all surely there must be some efficiencies that can be found in a budget of £1.2trn, or £1.4trn by 2028/29?

However, this doesn’t take account of the fact that around half of public spending goes on welfare, health and social care spending, where costs are principally driven by people living longer, the triple-lock state pension guarantee, and increasing levels of ill-health. And another 10% or so goes on interest, where costs are driven by no-longer-very-low interest rates on a growing level of debt.

Nor does it allow for the significant pressures facing many public services that are likely to need additional funding to address. This includes the deteriorating international security situation that has prompted recent calls for defence and security spending to increase from 2% to 3% of GDP, underperformance across a range of public services from the criminal justice system to potholes to HMRC service standards, local authorities that are struggling financially, and crumbling infrastructure (in some cases literally) – among many others. There is also little sign of the scale of investment that would be needed to transform the delivery of public services to achieve sustainable cost reductions while maintaining or improving service quality.

It is perhaps unsurprising that the government decided to postpone the three-year Spending Review scheduled for 2024 until after the general election, given how the Office for Budget Responsibility has highlighted how the 2021 Spending Review led to a departmental spending increase of £32bn a year, or around 1.2% of GDP. A similar revision to current spending plans would have more than absorbed the amounts used for tax cuts in the Autumn Statement 2023 and the Spring Budget 2024, or pushed up borrowing levels even higher than are currently planned.

If we are lucky, there will be more detail on each party’s tax and spending plans in their manifesto documents. Then again…

Read more in the ICAEW Fiscal Insight: Spring Budget 2024 or visit our Spring Budget 2024 hub for our extensive coverage of its tax and public finance implications.

This chart was originally published by ICAEW.

ICAEW publishes in-depth Fiscal Insight on the Spring Budget

Now that the dust has settled on last month’s Spring Budget, ICAEW has published a more detailed analysis on the implications for the public finances.

ICAEW’s Fiscal Insight on the Spring Budget 2024 provides an analysis of the key numbers, risks to the Office for Budget Responsibility forecast, tax measures, forecast revisions since the 2023 Autumn Statement, the fiscal position in the 2024/25 Budget year, borrowing over the next five years, the calculation of underlying debt, the £1.2trn that HM Treasury needs to raise from debt investors, and our conclusions on what the numbers mean for the public finances.

Key points highlighted in the report include:


  • Modest improvement in forecasts and small tax increases ‘pay for’ national insurance cut.
  • Headroom of £9bn against the Chancellor’s primary fiscal rule is tiny compared with risks.
  • End of low-cost borrowing is hampering investment in infrastructure and public services.
  • Weak economy, high debt, demographic challenges, underperforming public services.
  • No long-term fiscal strategy.

Key numbers

  • Tax and other receipts of £1,139bn in 2024/25, equivalent to £1,375 per person per month.
  • Public spending of £1,226bn in 2024/25, equivalent to £1,480 per person per month.
  • Deficit projected to fall by a quarter to £87bn in 2024/25 and gradually to £39bn in 2028/29.
  • Headline debt expected to reach £2.8trn by March 2025 and £3.0trn by March 2029.
  • Underlying debt/GDP forecast to increase from 88.8% to 93.2% and then fall to 92.9%.


  • Difficult choices on spending deferred until after the general election.
  • Post-election tax increases likely, irrespective of who wins the general election.
  • A badly designed fiscal rule driving poor decisions and unrealistic spending forecasts.
  • Predicted reduction in the deficit to below 2% of GDP by 2027/28 is unlikely to occur.
  • Further pre-election tax cuts could affect credibility with debt markets. 

Alison Ring OBE FCA, ICAEW Director for Public Sector and Taxation, is quoted in the Fiscal Insight as follows:

“The principal story of the Spring Budget has been how the Chancellor was able to find room for tax cuts while still meeting his fiscal targets to ‘bring down debt and the deficit’.

“This is a frustrating narrative as it misses the bigger picture of public finances that are on an unsustainable path, with little sign of a long-term fiscal strategy to address demographic change, growing balance sheet liabilities, underperforming public services, rising debt interest, or resilience against future economic shocks.

“Debt is high and projected to be even higher in five years’ time than it is today. ‘Headroom’ is tiny in context of trillions of pounds of tax receipts and public spending over the next five years and forecasts that don’t reflect government practice in freezing fuel duties nor likely spending increases from the now postponed Spending Review.

“And we have a fiscal target that discourages essential infrastructure investment while at the same time never needing to be achieved as it is rolled forward each year.

“All of our fiscal eggs are now in a basket labelled ‘hope’ [for economic growth].”

Fiscal Insight

Read the full Fiscal Insight report, which provides detailed analysis on the Spring Budget’s implications for the public finances.

For further coverage, including more detailed information about tax measures, visit ICAEW’s Spring Budget 2024 site by clicking here.

This article was written by Martin Wheatcroft FCA on behalf of ICAEW and was originally published by ICAEW.

ICAEW chart of the week: Retail sales

My chart for ICAEW this week looks at how retail sales have increased by 19.5% over the past five years, comprising a 1.4% fall in volumes and a 21.2% increase in prices.

Double step chart:

Years to Feb 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023 and 2024 = Five years to Feb 2024.

Retail sales
ICAEW chart of the week

Prices up (orange)
Prices down (purple)
Volumes up (teal)
Volumes down (green)

Top step chart: prices

+1.0%, -1.1%, +7.8%, +9.6%, +2.6% = +21.2%

Bottom step chart: volumes

-0.2%, -3.3%, +7.0%, -4.2%, -0.3% = -1.4%

Total retail sales in the horizontal axes descriptions:

Year to Feb 2020 +0.8%, Year to Feb 2021 -4.4%, Year to Feb 2022 +15.4%, Year to Feb 2023 +5.0%, Year to Feb 2024 +2.3% = Five years to Feb 2024 +19.5%

27 Mar 2024.
Chart by Martin Wheatcroft FCA. Design by Sunday.
Sources: ONS, 'Retail sales, Great Britain: Feb 2024 (seasonally adjusted)'; ICAEW calculations.

(c) ICAEW 2024

The latest statistics from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) up to February 2024 highlight how retail sales in Great Britain (England, Wales and Scotland) have been on a rollercoaster ride over the past five years as the pandemic, then the cost-of-living crisis, battered the economy.

As our chart of the week illustrates, changes in retail sales can be split between volumes and prices, with growth in retail sales of 19.5% over the five years to February 2024 consisting of a 1.4% fall in volumes and a 21.2% increase in prices.

Our chart also shows how retail sales have increased by year, starting with a 0.8% increase in retail sales in the year to February 2020 (from a 0.2% fall in volumes and a 1% increase in prices) before the first pandemic lockdown the following month. That first year of the pandemic to February 2021 resulted in a 4.4% decline in sales (a 3.3% fall in volumes and a 1.1% reduction in prices) as we cut back on spending, followed by a massive 15.4% jump in retail sales in the year to February 2022 (7% from higher volumes and 7.8% from higher prices) as the nation emerged and started to spend heavily.

The cost-of-living crisis was behind a 5% increase in retail sales in the year to February 2023, as although prices rose 9.6% as inflation accelerated, households cut back on what they bought in response to drive a 4.2% fall in retail volumes.

Retail sales were up by a more modest 2.3% in the year to February 2024, comprising a 0.3% fall in volumes and a 2.6% increase in prices as inflation moderated.

Evening out the ups and downs gives an average increase in retail sales of 3.6% a year over the last five years, comprising an average fall of 0.3% a year in volumes and an average increase of 3.9% in prices.

This is not as positive a picture for retail business as the numbers might imply. Although it appears that retailers are selling slightly less overall at much higher prices, our chart doesn’t reflect the substantial increases many have seen in their input costs over the same period.

For more ICAEW analysis on the economy, click here.

This chart was originally published by ICAEW.

ICAEW chart of the week: Wage inflation

My chart for ICAEW this week takes a look at how average earnings have risen over the last decade and how they compare with the headline rate of inflation.

Triple column chart vertically above each other:

Wage inflation
ICAEW chart of the week

Each chart goes from Jan 2015 to Jan 2024 (10 columns)

Top chart: Average earnings net of CPI (orange)

+1.1%, +2.5%, -0.1%, -0.4%, +2.0%, +1.3%, +3.6%, -0.4%, -3.9%, +1.5%

Middle chart: Average earnings (purple)

+1.4%, +2.8%, +1.7%, +2.6%, +3.8%, +3.1%, +4.3%, +5.1%, +6.2%, +5.5%

Bottom chart: CPI (blue)

+0.3%, +0.3%, +1.8%, +3.0%, +1.8%, +1.8%, 0.7%, +5.5%, +10.1%, +4.0%

14 Mar 2024.
Chart by Martin Wheatcroft FCA. Design by Sunday.

Source: ONS, 'Consumer price inflation', 'Labour Force Survey, average weekly earnings (including bonuses)'.

(C) ICAEW 2024

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), average weekly earnings including bonuses on a seasonally adjusted basis increased by 5.5% between January 2023 and January 2024 to £672 (equivalent to £2,912 per month). This is 1.5 percentage points higher than the rate of consumer price inflation (CPI) over the same 12-month period of 4.0%.

While this might seem positive for the theoretical ‘average’ worker, this follows a 6.2% increase in the preceding year to January 2023, 3.9 percentage points lower than the corresponding 10.1% increase in consumer prices.

Our chart this week takes these numbers back a decade, with CPI of 0.3%, 0.3%, 1.8%, 3.0%, 1.8%, 1.8%, 0.7%, 5.5%, 10.1% and 4.0% respectively in the years from January 2015 through to January 2024. Average earnings increased by 1.4%, 2.8%, 1.7%, 2.6%, 3.8%, 3.1%, 4.3%, 5.1%, 6.2% and 5.5% respectively over the same period, giving rise to net differences of +1.1%, +2.5%, -0.1%, -0.4%, +2.0%, +1.3%, +1.3%, +3.6%, -0.4%, -3.9% and +1.5%.

Overall, wages have increased faster than inflation over the last decade, up 43.2% compared with a 32.8% increase in the CPI Index, equivalent to average rises of 3.7% a year and 2.9% a year respectively – or a net 0.8 percentage point a year improvement in average wages over CPI.

Private sector wages have risen faster at 45.7% over ten years (3.8% a year on average), while public sector wages have gone up by 33.7% (2.9% a year on average), only marginally ahead of CPI (by 0.07% a year). Of course, averages are just that and individual and household experiences will differ significantly.

This comparison would not be approved of by the statistical authorities, who prefer the consumer prices including housing (CPIH) measure of inflation to headline CPI. However, CPIH was up 31.7% over the past decade to January 2024 (or 2.8% a year on average), so while the numbers might have been slightly different in individual years if we had used CPIH in the chart, the increase in average wages over 10 years is only slightly better – by 1.1% in total or 0.1% a year on average.

Assuming inflation falls to below 2% later this year as predicted, the picture for the coming year is likely to show a significant positive variance for earnings, especially given the 9.8% increase in the minimum wage scheduled for April. This should have the effect of pushing up average earnings, unless something very surprising happens to wages further up the income scale.

For more ICAEW analysis on the economy, click here.

This chart was originally published by ICAEW.

ICAEW chart of the week: Spring Budget 2024

Our chart this week takes a look at the effect of the Spring Budget 2024 on the public finances.

Double step chart:

Spring Budget 2024
ICAEW chart of the week

2028/29 forecast deficit

Nov 2023 forecast: £35bn
Forecast revisions: -£1bn
Tax cuts: +£13bn
Tax rises: -£6bn
Other changes: -£2bn
Mar 2024 forecast: £39bn

2024/25 budgeted fiscal deficit

Nov 2023 forecast: £85bn
Forecast revisions: -£10bn
Tax cuts: +£14bn
Tax rises: -£0bn
Other charges: -£2bn
Mar 2024 forecast: £87bn

7 Mar 2024.
Chart by Martin Wheatcroft FCA. Design by Sunday.
Sources: HM Treasury, 'Spring Budget 2024'; OBR, 'Economic and Fiscal Outlook, Mar 2024'.

(c) ICAEW 2024

This week’s chart summarises the changes announced in the Spring Budget 2024, analysing the changes in the budgeted fiscal deficit for 2024/25 and the forecast fiscal deficit for 2028/29 since the forecasts that accompanied the Autumn Statement 2023 last November.

As the chart illustrates, the budgeted deficit for 2024/25 of £85bn anticipated in November has been revised up to £87bn, comprising forecast revisions reducing the deficit of £10bn, followed by tax cuts of £14bn increasing the deficit, offset by tax rises of close to zero and other changes of £2bn reducing the deficit.

The chart also shows the changes to the final year of the forecast period, with the forecast of deficit £35bn at the time of the Autumn Statement 2023 reduced by £1bn from forecast revisions, increased by £13bn to fund tax cuts, reduced by £6bn from tax rises and £2bn from other changes to reach a new forecast for the deficit in 2028/29 of £39bn.

The good news for the Chancellor was the improvement in the public finances in the earlier years of the forecast, with interest rate expectations coming down from last year. This resulted in an improvement in the forecasts of £16bn in 2024/25 and £14bn in 2028/29, offset by the effect of lower inflation expectations on tax and other receipts of £2bn and £13bn respectively to result in net forecast revisions of £10bn and £1bn respectively. The lower inflation assumption has a bigger impact over time as there is a compounding effect on tax and other receipts.

This allowed the Chancellor to announce a two-percentage point cut in national insurance pushing up the deficit by £10bn in 2024/25 and £11bn in 2028/29, together with freezes in fuel and alcohol duties, changes in the high-income child benefit charge, an increase in the VAT threshold from £85,000 to £90,000, and a four-percentage point cut in capital gains tax on property sales from 28% to 24%. The latter change is expected to increase tax receipts by a few hundred million pounds a year as it is expected to encourage more property sales, with higher volumes offsetting lower tax on each sale. Overall, these other tax cuts push up the deficit by £4bn in 2024/25 and £2bn in 2028/29.

The forecast revisions weren’t enough to allow the Chancellor to cover the cost of cutting taxes, and so he also announced some tax rises. These include the introduction of a duty on vaping and an increase in tobacco duty, an extension of the energy profits levy to March 2029, and changes in the tax treatment of ‘non-doms’. These have a relatively small effect in 2024/25 but build up to a reduction in the deficit around £6bn a year by 2028/29. 

Other changes of £2bn in 2024/25 comprised £1bn in other policy measures and £1bn in indirect benefits to the economy from the Chancellor’s announcements in 2024/25, while the £2bn in 2028/29 reflected £1bn from improvements in tax collection, £1bn in other measures, and £2bn from indirect benefits to the economy, offset by £1bn from interest on increased borrowing, and £1bn to be invested in public sector productivity.

In summary, these are relatively tiny changes in the outlook for the public finance in the context of £1.2trn of public spending each year and public sector net debt that is still on track to exceed £3.0trn by the end of the forecast period in March 2029.

Even relatively small changes in economic assumptions, in spending plans, or in tax policies could have a significant impact on the fiscal forecasts, especially those for 2028/29.

For more information about the Spring Budget 2024 and ICAEW’s letters to the Chancellor and HM Treasury, click here.

This chart was originally published by ICAEW.

ICAEW chart of the week: Pre-Budget deficit forecast

While tax cuts will likely headline next week’s Spring Budget, debt markets will be questioning plans to reduce the deficit by constraining public spending.

Step chart:

Pre-Budget deficit forecast
ICAEW chart of the week

Deficit - purple
Higher spending (excluding interest) -  orange
Higher receipts (net of interest) - blue

2024/25: £85bn deficit
Step 1: +£13bn higher spending -£21bn higher receipts
Step 2: +£10bn higher spending - £19bn higher receipts
Step 3: +£5bn higher spending - £24bn higher receipts
Step 4: +£7bn higher spending - £21bn higher receipts
2028/29: £35bn

Last week’s chart of the week looked at the pre-Budget forecast for debt and the very low level of headroom the Chancellor had against his primary fiscal rule of seeing debt falling by the final year of the forecast period.

Our chart this week is on the ‘P&L’ side of the equation, illustrating how the Chancellor’s plan at the time of the Autumn Statement 2023 was to bring down the deficit by constraining growth in public spending to less than the level of growth in tax and other receipts.

The starting point is the deficit of £85bn for the financial year ending March 2025 (2024/25) forecast by the Office for Budget Responsibility last November, with spending (excluding interest) expected to increase by less each year than receipts (net of interest): by £13bn and £21bn respectively in 2025/26, £10bn and £19bn in 2026/27, £5bn and £24bn in 2027/28, and £7bn and £21bn in 2089/29, to reach a projected deficit of £35bn in 2028/29. 

If achieved, this would see the deficit reduce to the equivalent of 1.6% in 2027/28 and 1.1% of GDP in 2028/29, the first time the deficit would come in below 2% of GDP since 2002/03, a quarter of a century earlier.

Although the increases in taxes and other receipts may seem substantial, they are broadly in line with the projected growth in the size of the economy, with ‘fiscal drag’ from the freezing of several key tax allowances mitigating the effect of tax cuts announced last November. Meanwhile, planned spending increases are relatively small in the context of the overall public finances, equivalent to real terms rises in public spending excluding interest of 1.1%, 0.8%, 0.4% and 0.5% respectively.

This relatively low level of increase in spending may seem surprising in the context of demographic changes that are pushing up spending on pensions, health and social care, a deteriorating international security situation, the severe financial difficulties facing many local authorities, and the pressure many other public services are under, not to mention the need to increase investment in infrastructure if the economy is to return to growth.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has questioned whether the Chancellor’s spending plans are realistically achievable, given that they imply significant cuts in the budgets of unprotected departments over the course of the forecast period. These are unlikely to be deliverable in practice.

modest boost to public finances reported in the current financial year, together with moderating interest rate expectations, are expected to provide the Chancellor with capacity to cut taxes while still meeting his fiscal rules. But debt investors will be wondering how much an incoming government – irrespective of which party wins power – will actually be able to raise taxes to fully cover expected spending-plan revisions. Not raising taxes sufficiently in the first Budget after the election would likely lead to the next government needing to borrow even more at a time when the Bank of England is flooding debt markets with gilts as it unwinds quantitative easing.

For more information about the Spring Budget 2024 and ICAEW’s letters to the Chancellor and HM Treasury, click here.

This chart was originally published by ICAEW.