Economy of the United Kingdom

The economy of the United Kingdom is highly developed and market-orientated.[34][35] It is the sixth-largest national economy in the world measured by nominal gross domestic product (GDP), ninth-largest by purchasing power parity (PPP), and twenty second-largest by GDP per capita, comprising 3.3% of world GDP.[36]

Economy of the United Kingdom
City of London, The financial hub of the UK
CurrencyPound sterling (GBP, £)
6 April – 5 April
Trade organisations
WTO, AIIB, OECD, and EU[lower-alpha 1]
Country group
Population 66,647,112 (1 January 2019)[3]
  • $2.828 trillion (nominal; 2018)[4]
  • $3.038 trillion (PPP; 2018)[4]
GDP rank
GDP growth
  • 1.8% (2016) 1.8% (2017)
  • 1.4% (2018) 1.2% (2019e)[4]
  • 1.2% (Q2 2019)[5]
GDP per capita
  • $42,580 (nominal; 2018 est.)[4]
  • $45,741 (PPP; 2018 est.)[4]
GDP per capita rank
GDP by sector
  • 1.8% (January 2019)[6]
  • RPI: 2.5% (December 2018)
  • 2.478% (2018)[4]
Population below poverty line
  • 22% (2018)[7]
  • 23.6% at risk of poverty or social exclusion (2018 provisional)[8]
34.2 medium (2018 provisional)[9]
Labour force
32.70 million (March 2019) (employment rate 76.1%)[12]
Labour force by occupation
Unemployment 3.8% (August 2019)[14]
Average gross salary
£585(US$748) weekly median (2019)[15]
Main industries
8th (very easy, 2020)[16]
Exports$796 billion (4th; 2019 est.)[17]
Export goods
  • Manufactured goods
  • fuels
  • chemicals
  • food
  • beverages
  • tobacco
Main export partners
Imports$581.6 billion (5th; 2016 est.)[19]
Import goods
  • Manufactured goods
  • machinery
  • fuels
  • foodstuffs
Main import partners
FDI stock
  • Inward: $1.196 trillion
  • Outward: $1.443 trillion (2016)[21]
−£30.0 billion (2019) [22]
$7.499 trillion (March 2017)[23] (2nd)
$575 billion (2016)[24]
Public finances
85.8% of GDP (2018)[25]
£25.5 billion (2018–2019 FY)[26]
  • £1.04 trillion (2019–2020 FY)[27]
  • $984 billion (2018 est. CIA)
  • £842 billion (2019-2020 FY)[27]
  • $1.11 trillion (2018 est. CIA)
Economic aidODA£14 Billion (2017)[28]
Foreign reserves
$164.2 billion (31 March 2018)[33]
Main data source: CIA World Fact Book
All values, unless otherwise stated, are in US dollars.

In 2016, the UK was the tenth-largest goods exporter in the world and the fifth-largest goods importer. It also had the second-largest inward foreign direct investment,[37] and the third-largest outward foreign direct investment.[38] The UK is one of the most globalised economies,[39] and it is composed of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.[lower-alpha 2]

The service sector dominates, contributing around 80% of GDP;[40] the financial services industry is particularly important, and London is the second-largest financial centre in the world.[41] Britain's aerospace industry is the second-largest national aerospace industry.[42] Its pharmaceutical industry, the tenth-largest in the world,[43] plays an important role in the economy. Of the world's 500 largest companies, 26 are headquartered in the UK.[44] The economy is boosted by North Sea oil and gas production; its reserves were estimated at 2.8 billion barrels in 2016,[45] although it has been a net importer of oil since 2005.[46] There are significant regional variations in prosperity, with South East England and North East Scotland being the richest areas per capita. The size of London's economy makes it the largest city by GDP in Europe.[47]

In the 18th century the UK was the first country to industrialise,[48][49][50] and during the 19th century it had a dominant role in the global economy,[51] accounting for 9.1% of the world's GDP in 1870.[52] The Second Industrial Revolution was also taking place rapidly in the United States and the German Empire; this presented an increasing economic challenge for the UK. The costs of fighting World War I and World War II further weakened the UK's relative position. In the 21st century, however, the UK remains a great power with the ability to project power and influence around the world.[53][54][55][56][57]

Government involvement is primarily exercised by Her Majesty's Treasury, headed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. Since 1979 management of the economy has followed a broadly laissez-faire approach.[34][35][58][59][60][61] The Bank of England is the UK's central bank, and since 1997 its Monetary Policy Committee has been responsible for setting interest rates, quantitative easing, and forward guidance.

The currency of the UK is the pound sterling, which is the world's fourth-largest reserve currency after the United States Dollar, the Euro and the Japanese Yen, and is also one of the 10 most-valued currencies in the world.

The UK is a member of the Commonwealth, the European Union (currently negotiating withdrawal), the G7, the G20, the International Monetary Fund, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the World Bank, the World Trade Organization, Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the United Nations.


1945 to 1979

After the Second World War, a new Labour government fully nationalised the Bank of England, civil aviation, telephone networks, railways, gas, electricity, and the coal, iron and steel industries, affecting 2.3 million workers.[62] Post-war, the United Kingdom enjoyed a long period without a major recession; there was a rapid growth in prosperity in the 1950s and 1960s, with unemployment staying low and not exceeding 3.5% until the early 1970s.[63] The annual rate of growth between 1960 and 1973 averaged 2.9%, although this figure was far behind other European countries such as France, West Germany and Italy.[64]

Deindustrialisation meant the closure of operations in mining, heavy industry, and manufacturing, resulting in the loss of highly paid working-class jobs.[65] The UK's share of manufacturing output had risen from 9.5% in 1830 during the Industrial Revolution to 22.9% in the 1870s. It fell to 13.6% by 1913, 10.7% by 1938, and 4.9% by 1973.[66] Overseas competition, lack of innovation, trade unionism, the welfare state, loss of the British Empire, and cultural attitudes have all been put forward as explanations.[67] It reached crisis point in the 1970s against the backdrop of a worldwide energy crisis, high inflation, and a dramatic influx of low-cost manufactured goods from Asia.[68]

During the 1973 oil crisis, the 1973–74 stock market crash, and the secondary banking crisis of 1973–75, the British economy fell into the 1973–75 recession and the government of Edward Heath was ousted by the Labour Party under Harold Wilson, which had previously governed from 1964 to 1970. Wilson formed a minority government in March 1974 after the general election on 28 February ended in a hung parliament. Wilson secured a three-seat overall majority in a second election in October that year.

The UK recorded weaker growth than many other European nations in the 1970s; even after the recession, the economy was blighted by rising unemployment and double-digit inflation, which exceeded 20% more than once and was rarely below 10% after 1973.

In 1976, the UK was forced to apply for a loan of £2.3 billion from the International Monetary Fund. Denis Healey, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, was required to implement public spending cuts and other economic reforms in order to secure the loan, and for a while the British economy improved, with growth of 4.3% in early 1979. However, following the Winter of Discontent, when the UK was hit by numerous public sector strikes, the government of James Callaghan lost a vote of no confidence in March 1979. This triggered the general election on 3 May 1979 which resulted in Margaret Thatcher's Conservative Party forming a new government.

1979 to 1997

A new period of neo-liberal economics began with this election. During the 1980s, many state-owned industries and utilities were privatised, taxes cut, trade union reforms passed and markets deregulated. GDP fell by 5.9% initially,[69] but growth subsequently returned and rose to an annual rate of 5% at its peak in 1988, one of the highest rates of any country in Europe.[70][71]

Thatcher's modernisation of the economy was far from trouble-free; her battle with inflation, which in 1980 had risen to 21.9%, resulted in a substantial increase in unemployment from 5.3% in 1979 to over 10.4% by the start of 1982, peaking at nearly 11.9% in 1984 – a level not seen in Britain since the Great Depression.[72] The rise in unemployment coincided with the early 1980s global recession, after which UK GDP did not reach its pre-recession rate until 1983. In spite of this, Thatcher was re-elected in June 1983 with a landslide majority. Inflation had fallen to 3.7%, while interest rates were relatively high at 9.56%.[72]

The increase in unemployment was largely due to the government's economic policy which resulted in the closure of outdated factories and coal pits. Manufacturing in England and Wales declined from around 38% of jobs in 1961 to around 22% in 1981.[73] This trend continued for most of the 1980s, with newer industries and the service sector enjoying significant growth. Many jobs were also lost as manufacturing became more efficient and fewer people were required to work in the sector. Unemployment had fallen below 3 million by the time of Thatcher's third successive election victory in June 1987; and by the end of 1989 it was down to 1.6 million.[74]

Britain's economy slid into another global recession in late 1990; it shrank by a total of 6% from peak to trough,[75] and unemployment increased from around 6.9% in spring 1990 to nearly 10.7% by the end of 1993. However, inflation dropped from 10.9% in 1990 to 1.3% three years later.[72] The subsequent economic recovery was extremely strong, and unlike after the early 1980s recession, the recovery saw a rapid and substantial fall in unemployment, which was down to 7.2% by 1997,[72] although the popularity of the Conservative government had failed to improve with the economic upturn. The government won a fourth successive election in 1992 under John Major, who had succeeded Thatcher in November 1990, but soon afterwards came Black Wednesday, which damaged the Conservative government's reputation for economic competence, and from that stage onwards, the Labour Party was ascendant in the opinion polls, particularly in the immediate aftermath of Tony Blair's election as party leader in July 1994 after the sudden death of his predecessor John Smith.

Despite two recessions, wages grew consistently by around 2% per year in real terms from 1980 until 1997, and continued to grow until 2008.[76]

1997 to 2008

In May 1997, Labour, led by Tony Blair, won the general election after 18 of Conservative government.[77] The Labour Government inherited a strong economy with low inflation,[78] falling unemployment,[79] and a current account surplus.[80] Blair ran on a platform of New Labour which was characterised largely by the continuation of neo-liberal economic policies, but also supporting a strong social welfare state. In Britian it was largely viewed as a combination of Socialism and Capitalist polices at the time being dubbed the Third Wave.[81] Four days after the election, Gordon Brown, the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, gave the Bank of England the freedom to control monetary policy, which until then had been directed by the government.

During Blair's 10 years in office there were 40 successive quarters of economic growth, lasting until the second quarter of 2008. GDP growth, which had briefly reached 4% per year in the early 1990s, gently declining thereafter, was relatively anaemic compared to prior decades, such as the 6.5% per year peak in the early 1970s, although growth was smoother and more consistent.[71] Annual growth rates averaged 2.68% between 1992 and 2007,[70] with the finance sector accounting for a greater part than previously. The period saw one of the highest GDP growth rates of any developed economy and the strongest of any European nation.[82] At the same time, household debt rose from £420 billion in 1994 to £1 trillion in 2004 and £1.46 trillion in 2008 – more than the entire GDP of the UK.[83]

Labour setup public-private partnerships(PPP) using a Private Finance Initative(PFI) where the private company could bid on a government contract to manage a public good. "PPPs have delivered £56 billion of private sector capital investment in over 700 UK infrastructure projects. These include new schools, hospitals, roads, housing, prisons, and military equipment and accommodation".[84] PFI has a contriversial record in the UK with reports of mixed success.[85]

This extended period of growth ended in Q2 of 2008 when the United Kingdom entered a recession brought about by the global financial crisis. The UK was particularly vulnerable to the crisis because its financial sector was the most highly leveraged of any major economy.[86] Beginning with the collapse of Northern Rock, which was taken into public ownership in February 2008, other banks had to be partly nationalised. The Royal Bank of Scotland Group, at its peak the fifth-largest bank in the world by market capitalisation, was effectively nationalised in October 2008. By mid-2009, HM Treasury had a 70.33% controlling shareholding in RBS, and a 43% shareholding, through UK Financial Investments Limited, in Lloyds Banking Group. The Great Recession, as it came to be known, saw unemployment rise from just over 1.6 million in January 2008 to nearly 2.5 million by October 2009.[87][88]

In August 2008 the IMF warned that the country's outlook had worsened due to a twin shock: financial turmoil and rising commodity prices.[89] Both developments harmed the UK more than most developed countries, as it obtained revenue from exporting financial services while running deficits in goods and commodities, including food. In 2007, the UK had the world's third largest current account deficit, due mainly to a large deficit in manufactured goods. In May 2008, the IMF advised the UK government to broaden the scope of fiscal policy to promote external balance.[90] The UK's output per hour worked was on a par with the average for the "old" EU-15 countries.[91]

2009 to present

In March 2009, the Bank of England (BoE) cut interest rates to a historic low of 0.5% and began quantitative easing (QE) to boost lending and shore up the economy.[92] The UK exited the Great Recession in Q4 of 2009 having experienced six consecutive quarters of negative growth, shrinking by 6.03% from peak to trough, making it the longest recession since records began and the deepest since World War II.[75][93] Support for Labour slumped during the recession, and the general election of 2010 resulted in a coalition government being formed by the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.

In 2010 the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government began a program of "austerity" to reduce Government net borrowing, which had increased to 10% of GDP per year in 2009. It wasn't until 2017(7 years later) Government Borrowing returned to the historic levels before the Great Recession. The Great Recession was responsible for Government Debt doubling from 40.9% of GDP(2007/08) to 80.8 GDP(2011/12). The Austerity measures successfully reduced UK Government borrowing significantly[94].

In 2011, household, financial, and business debts stood at 420% of GDP in the UK.[lower-alpha 3][95] As the world's most indebted country, spending and investment were held back after the recession, creating economic malaise. However, it was recognised that government borrowing, which rose from 52% to 76% of GDP, helped to avoid a 1930s-style depression.[96] Within three years of the general election, government cuts had led to public sector job losses well into six figures, but the private sector enjoyed strong jobs growth.

The 10 years following the Great Recession were characterised by extremes. In 2015, employment was at its highest since records began,[97] and GDP growth had become the fastest in the Group of Seven (G7) and Europe,[98] but workforce productivity was the worst since the 1820s, with any growth attributed to a fall in working hours.[99] Output per hour worked was 18% below the average for the rest of the G7.[100] Real wage growth was the worst since the 1860s, and the Governor of the Bank of England described it as a lost decade.[101] Wages fell by 10% in real terms in the eight years to 2016, whilst they grew across the OECD by an average of 6.7%.[102] For 2015 as a whole,[103] the current account deficit rose to a record high of 5.2% of GDP (£96.2bn),[104] the highest in the developed world.[105] In Q4 2015, it exceeded 7%, a level not witnessed during peacetime since records began in 1772.[106] The UK relied on foreign investors to plug the shortfall in its balance of payments.[107] Homes had become less affordable, a problem exacerbated by QE, which kept house prices 22% higher than they would otherwise have been, according to the BoE's own analysis.[108]

A rise in unsecured household debt added to questions over the sustainability of the economic recovery in 2016.[109][110][111][112] The BoE insisted there was no cause for alarm,[113] despite having said two years earlier that the recovery was "neither balanced nor sustainable".[114][lower-alpha 4] Following the UK's decision to leave the European Union, the BoE cut interest rates to a new historic low of 0.25% for just over a year. It also increased the amount of QE since the start of the Great Recession to £435bn.[117] By Q4 2018 net borrowing in the UK was the highest in the OECD at 5% of GDP.[lower-alpha 5] Households had been in deficit for an unprecedented nine quarters in a row. Since the Great Recession, the country was no longer making a profit on its foreign investments.[118]

Government spending and economic management

Government involvement in the economy is primarily exercised by HM Treasury, headed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. In recent years, the UK economy has been managed in accordance with principles of market liberalisation and low taxation and regulation. Since 1997, the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee, headed by the Governor of the Bank of England, has been responsible for setting interest rates at the level necessary to achieve the overall inflation target for the economy that is set by the Chancellor each year.[119] The Scottish Government, subject to the approval of the Scottish Parliament, has the power to vary the basic rate of income tax payable in Scotland by plus or minus 3 pence in the pound, though this power has not yet been exercised.

In the 20-year period from 1986/87 to 2006/07 government spending in the UK averaged around 40% of GDP.[120] In July 2007, the UK had government debt at 35.5% of GDP.[121] As a result of the 2007–2010 financial crisis and the late-2000s global recession, government spending increased to a historically high level of 48% of GDP in 2009–10, partly as a result of the cost of a series of bank bailouts.[120][121] In terms of net government debt as a percentage of GDP, at the end of June 2014 public sector net debt excluding financial sector interventions was £1304.6 billion, equivalent to 77.3% of GDP.[122] For the financial year of 2013–2014 public sector net borrowing was £93.7 billion.[122] This was £13.0 billion higher than in the financial year of 2012–2013.


Taxation in the United Kingdom may involve payments to at least two different levels of government: local government and central government (HM Revenue & Customs). Local government is financed by grants from central government funds, business rates, council tax, and, increasingly, fees and charges such as those from on-street parking. Central government revenues are mainly from income tax, national insurance contributions, value added tax, corporation tax and fuel duty.



Agriculture in the UK is intensive, highly mechanised and efficient by European standards, producing about 50% of food needs in 2008 (down from about 65% in 1993),[123] with less than 1.6% of the labour force (535,000 workers).[123] It contributes around 0.6% of British national value added.[123] Around two-thirds of the production is devoted to livestock, one-third to arable crops.[123] Agriculture is subsidised by the European Union's Common Agricultural Policy.

The UK retains a significant, though reduced, fishing industry. Its fleets, based in towns such as Kingston upon Hull, Grimsby, Fleetwood, Newlyn, Great Yarmouth, Peterhead, Fraserburgh, and Lowestoft, bring home fish ranging from sole to herring.

The Blue Book 2013 reports that "Agriculture" added gross value of £9,438 million to the UK economy in 2011.[124]


The construction industry of the United Kingdom contributed gross value of £86 billion to the UK economy in 2011.[124] The industry employed around 2.2 million people in the fourth quarter of 2009.[125] There were around 194,000 construction firms in the United Kingdom in 2009, of which around 75,400 employed just one person and 62 employed over 1,200 people.[125] In 2009 the construction industry in the UK received total orders of around £18.7 billion from the private sector and £15.1 billion from the public sector.[125]

The largest construction project in the UK is Crossrail. Due to open in 2020/2021[126][127], it will be a new railway line running east to west through London and into the surrounding countryside with a branch to Heathrow Airport.[128] The main feature of the project is construction of 42 km (26 mi) of new tunnels connecting stations in central London. It is also Europe's biggest construction project with a £15 billion projected cost.[129][130]

Prospective construction projects include the High Speed 2 line between London and the West Midlands and Crossrail 2.

Production industries

Electricity, gas and water supply

The Blue Book 2013 reports that this sector added gross value of £33,289 million to the UK economy in 2011.[124] The United Kingdom is expected to launch the building of new nuclear reactors to replace existing generators and to boost UK's energy reserves.[131]


In the 1970s, manufacturing accounted for 25 percent of the economy. Total employment in manufacturing fell from 7.1 million in 1979 to 4.5 million in 1992 and only 2.7 million in 2016, when it accounted for 10% of the economy.[132][133][134]

Manufacturing has increased in 36 of the last 50 years and was twice in 2007 what is in 1958, manufactures include Autodesk.[135]

In 2011 the UK manufacturing sector generated approximately £140,539 million in gross value added and employed around 2.6 million people.[124][136] Of the approximately £16 billion invested in R&D by UK businesses in 2008, approximately £12 billion was by manufacturing businesses.[136] In 2008, the UK was the sixth-largest manufacturer in the world measured by value of output.[137]

In 2008 around 180,000 people in the UK were directly employed in the UK automotive manufacturing sector.[138] In that year the sector had a turnover of £52.5 billion, generated £26.6 billion of exports and produced around 1.45 million passenger vehicles and 203,000 commercial vehicles.[138] The UK is a major centre for engine manufacturing, and in 2008 around 3.16 million engines were produced in the country.[138]

The aerospace industry of the UK is the second- or third-largest aerospace industry in the world, depending upon the method of measurement.[139][140] The industry employs around 113,000 people directly and around 276,000 indirectly and has an annual turnover of around £20 billion.[141][142] British companies with a major presence in the industry include BAE Systems (the world's second-largest defence contractor)[143] and Rolls-Royce (the world's second-largest aircraft engine maker).[144] European aerospace companies active in the UK include Airbus, whose commercial aircraft, space, helicopter and defence divisions employ over 13,500 people across more than 25 UK sites.[145]

The pharmaceutical industry employs around 67,000 people in the UK and in 2007 contributed £8.4 billion to the UK's GDP and invested a total of £3.9 billion in research and development.[146][147] In 2007 exports of pharmaceutical products from the UK totalled £14.6 billion, creating a trade surplus in pharmaceutical products of £4.3 billion.[148] The UK is home to GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca, respectively the world's third- and seventh-largest pharmaceutical companies.[149][150]

Mining, quarrying and hydrocarbons

The Blue Book 2013 reports that this sector added gross value of £31,380 million to the UK economy in 2011.[124] In 2007 the UK had a total energy output of 9.5 quadrillion Btus (10 exajoules), of which the composition was oil (38%), natural gas (36%), coal (13%), nuclear (11%) and other renewables (2%).[151] In 2009, the UK produced 1.5 million barrels per day (bbl/d) of oil and consumed 1.7 million bbl/d.[152] Production is now in decline and the UK has been a net importer of oil since 2005.[152] As of 2010 the UK has around 3.1 billion barrels of proven crude oil reserves, the largest of any EU member state.[152]

In 2009 the UK was the 13th largest producer of natural gas in the world and the largest producer in the EU.[153] Production is now in decline and the UK has been a net importer of natural gas since 2004.[153] In 2009 the UK produced 19.7 million tons of coal and consumed 60.2 million tons.[151] In 2005 it had proven recoverable coal reserves of 171 million tons.[151] It has been estimated that identified onshore areas have the potential to produce between 7 billion tonnes and 16 billion tonnes of coal through underground coal gasification (UCG).[154] Based on current UK coal consumption, these volumes represent reserves that could last the UK between 200 and 400 years.[155]

The UK is home to a number of large energy companies, including two of the six oil and gas "supermajors" – BP and Royal Dutch Shell.[156][157]

The UK is also rich in a number of natural resources including coal, tin, limestone, iron ore, salt, clay, chalk, gypsum, lead and silica.

Service industries

The service sector is the dominant sector of the UK economy, and contributes around 80.2% of GDP as of 2016.


The UK Exports to 160 nations.

Creative industries

The creative industries accounted for 7% of gross value added (GVA) in 2005 and grew at an average of 6% per annum between 1997 and 2005.[158] Key areas include London and the North West of England, which are the two largest creative industry clusters in Europe.[159] According to the British Fashion Council, the fashion industry's contribution to the UK economy in 2014 is £26 billion, up from £21 billion in 2009.[160] The UK is home to the world's largest advertising company, WPP.

Education, health and social work

According to The Blue Book 2013 the education sector added gross value of £84,556 million in 2011 whilst human health and social work activities added £104,026 million in 2011.[124]

In the UK the majority of the healthcare sector consists of the state funded and operated National Health Service (NHS), which accounts for over 80% of all healthcare spending in the UK and has a workforce of around 1.7 million, making it the largest employer in Europe, and putting it amongst the largest employers in the world.[161][162][163] The NHS operates independently in each of the four constituent countries of the UK. The NHS in England is by far the largest of the four parts and had a turnover of £92.5 billion in 2008.[164]

In 2007/08 higher education institutions in the UK had a total income of £23 billion and employed a total of 169,995 staff.[165] In 2007/08 there were 2,306,000 higher education students in the UK (1,922,180 in England, 210,180 in Scotland, 125,540 in Wales and 48,200 in Northern Ireland).[165]

Financial and business services

The UK financial services industry added gross value of £116,363 million to the UK economy in 2011.[124] The UK's exports of financial and business services make a significant positive contribution towards the country's balance of payments.

London is a major centre for international business and commerce and is one of the three "command centres" of the global economy (alongside New York City and Tokyo).[166][167] There are over 500 banks with offices in London, and it is the leading international centre for banking, insurance, Eurobonds, foreign exchange trading and energy futures. London's financial services industry is primarily based in the City of London and Canary Wharf. The City houses the London Stock Exchange, the London International Financial Futures and Options Exchange, the London Metal Exchange, Lloyds of London, and the Bank of England. Canary Wharf began development in the 1980s and is now home to major financial institutions such as Barclays Bank, Citigroup and HSBC, as well as the UK Financial Services Authority.[168][169] London is also a major centre for other business and professional services, and four of the six largest law firms in the world are headquartered there.[170]

Several other major UK cities have large financial sectors and related services. Edinburgh has one of the largest financial centres in Europe[171] and is home to the headquarters of the Royal Bank of Scotland Group and Standard Life. Leeds is the UK's largest centre for business and financial services outside London,[172][173][174] and the largest centre for legal services in the UK after London.[175][176][177]

According to a series of research papers and reports published in the mid-2010s, Britain's financial firms provide sophisticated methods to launder billions of pounds annually, including money from the proceeds of corruption around the world as well as the world's drug trade, thus making the City a global hub for illicit finance.[178][179][180][181] According to a Deutsche Bank study published in March 2015, Britain was attracting circa one billion pounds of capital inflows a month not recorded by official statistics, up to 40 percent probably originating from Russia, which implies misreporting by financial institutions, sophisticated tax avoidance, and the UK's "safe-haven" reputation.[182]

Hotels and restaurants

The Blue Book 2013 reports that this industry added gross value of £36,554 million to the UK economy in 2011.[124] Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG), headquartered in Denham, Buckinghamshire, is currently the world's largest hotelier, owning and operating hotel brands such as Intercontinental, Holiday Inn and Crowne Plaza. The international arm of Hilton Hotels, the world's fifth largest hotelier, used to be owned by Ladbrokes Plc, and was headquartered in Watford, Hertfordshire from 1987 to 2005. It was sold to Hilton Hotels Group of the US in December 2005.


A study in 2014 found that prostitution and associated services added over £5 billion to the economy each year.[183]

Public administration and defence

The Blue Book 2013 reports that this sector added gross value of £70,400 million to the UK economy in 2011.[124]

Real estate and renting activities

The real estate and renting activities sector includes the letting of dwellings and other related business support activities. The Blue Book 2013 reports that real estate industry added gross value of £143,641 million in 2011.[124] Notable real estate companies in the United Kingdom include British Land, Land Securities, and The Peel Group.

The UK property market boomed for the seven years up to 2008, and in some areas property trebled in value over that period. The increase in property prices had a number of causes: low interest rates, credit growth, economic growth, rapid growth in buy-to-let property investment, foreign property investment in London and planning restrictions on the supply of new housing. In England and Wales between 1997 and 2016, average house prices increased by 259%, while earnings increased by 68%. An average home cost 3.6 times annual earnings in 1997 compared to 7.6 in 2016.[185]

Rent has nearly doubled as a share of GDP since 1985, and is now larger than the manufacturing sector. In 2014, rent and imputed rent – an estimate of how much home-owners would pay if they rented their home – accounted for 12.3% of GDP.[186]


Tourism is very important to the British economy. With over 32.6 million tourists arriving in 2014, the United Kingdom is ranked as the eighth major tourist destination in the world.[187] London is the second most visited city in the world with 17.4 million visitors in 2014, behind first-placed Hong Kong (27.8 million visitors).[188]

Transport, storage and communication

The transport and storage industry added a gross value of £59,179 million to the UK economy in 2011 and the telecommunication industry added a gross value of £25,098 million in the same year.[124]

The UK has a total road network of 246,700 miles (397,025 km) with 31,400 miles (50,533 km) of major roads, including 2,300 miles (3,701 km) of motorway.[190] The railway infrastructure, in Great Britain, is owned by Network Rail which has 19,291 miles (31,046 km) of railway lines, of which 9,866 miles (15,878 km) is open for traffic.[191] There are a further 206.5 miles (332.3 km) of track in Northern Ireland, owned and operated by Northern Ireland Railways.[192] Since the privatisation of British Rail, passenger trains in Britain are run by Train Operating Companies. As of 2019, there are 32 TOCs.[193] The government is to spend £56 billion on a new high-speed railway line, HS2, with the first phase from London to Birmingham costing £27 billion.[194] Crossrail, due to open in London during Autumn 2019, is Europe's largest infrastructure project with a £15 billion projected cost.[195]

Highways England is the government-owned company responsible for trunk roads and motorways in England apart from the privately owned and operated M6 Toll.[196] The Department for Transport states that traffic congestion is one of the most serious transport problems and that it could cost England an extra £22 billion in wasted time by 2025 if left unchecked.[197] According to the government-sponsored Eddington report of 2006, congestion is in danger of harming the economy, unless tackled by road pricing and expansion of the transport network.[198][199]

In the year from February 2017 to January 2018, UK airports handled a total of 284.8 million passengers.[200] In that period the three largest airports were London Heathrow Airport (78.0 million passengers), Gatwick Airport (45.6 million passengers) and Manchester Airport (27.8 million passengers).[200] London Heathrow Airport, located 14 12 miles (23.3 km) west of the capital,[201] has the most international passenger traffic of any airport in the world.[202] It is the hub for the UK flag carrier British Airways, as well as BMI and Virgin Atlantic.[203] London's six commercial airports form the world's largest city airport system measured by passenger traffic with 171 million passengers in 2017.[204]

Wholesale and retail trade

This sector includes the motor trade, auto repairs, personal and household goods industries. The Blue Book 2013 reports that this sector added gross value of £151,785 million to the UK economy in 2011.[124]

As of 2016, high-street retail spending accounted for about 33% of consumer spending and 20% of GDP. Because 75% of goods bought in the United Kingdom are made overseas, the sector only accounts for 5.7% of gross value added to the British economy.[205] Online sales account for 22% of retail spending in the UK, third highest in the world after China and South Korea, and double that of the United States.[206]

The UK grocery market is dominated by four companies: Tesco (27% market share), Sainsbury's (15.4%), Asda (14.9%; owned by Wal-Mart Stores) and Morrisons (10%).[207]

London is a major retail centre and in 2010 had the highest non-food retail sales of any city in the world, with a total spend of around £64.2 billion.[208] The UK-based Tesco is the third-largest retailer in the world measured by revenues (after Wal-Mart Stores and Carrefour).


London is the world capital for foreign exchange trading, with a global market share of nearly 41% in 2013 of the daily $5.3 trillion global turnover. The highest daily volume, counted in trillions of dollars US, is reached when New York enters the trade.

The currency of the UK is the pound sterling, represented by the symbol "£'. The Bank of England is the central bank, responsible for issuing currency. Banks in Scotland and Northern Ireland retain the right to issue their own notes, subject to retaining enough Bank of England notes in reserve to cover the issue. The pound sterling is also used as a reserve currency by other governments and institutions, and is the third-largest after the US dollar and the euro.[209]

The UK chose not to join the euro at the currency's launch. The government of former Prime Minister Tony Blair had pledged to hold a public referendum to decide on membership should "five economic tests" be met. Until relatively recently there was debate over whether or not the UK should abolish its currency and adopt the euro. In 2007 the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, pledged to hold a public referendum based on certain tests he set as Chancellor of the Exchequer. When assessing the tests, Gordon Brown concluded that while the decision was close, the United Kingdom should not yet join the euro. He ruled out membership for the foreseeable future, saying that the decision not to join had been right for the UK and for Europe.[210] In particular, he cited fluctuations in house prices as a barrier to immediate entry. Public opinion polls have shown that a majority of Britons have been opposed to joining the single currency for some considerable time, and this position has hardened further in the last few years.[211] In 2005, more than half (55%) of the UK were against adopting the currency, while 30% were in favour.[212] The possibility of joining the euro has become a non-issue since the referendum decision to withdraw from the European Union.

Exchange rates

Average for each year, in USD (US dollar) and EUR (euro) per GBP; and inversely: GBP per USD and EUR. (Synthetic Euro XEU before 1999). These averages conceal wide intra-year spreads. The coefficient of variation gives an indication of this. It also shows the extent to which the pound tracks the euro or the dollar. Note the effect of Black Wednesday in late 1992 by comparing the averages for 1992 and for 1993.

For consistency and comparison purposes, coefficient of variation is measured on both the "per pound" ratios, although it is conventional to show the forex rates as dollars per pound and pounds per euro.

Economy by region

The strength of the UK economy varies from country to country and from region to region. Excluding the effects of North Sea oil and gas (which is classified in official statistics as extra-regio), England has the highest gross value added (GVA) and Wales the lowest of the UK's constituent countries.

Rank Country GDP per capita, 2015[215]
1 England £26,160/ $40,000
2 Scotland £23,685/ $36,200
3 Northern Ireland £18,584/ $28,400
4 Wales £18,002/ $27,500

Within England, GVA per capita is highest in London. The following table shows the GVA per capita of the nine statistical regions of England.

Rank Region GVA per
1 Greater London £40,215
2 South East England £25,843
3 East of England £21,897
4 South West England £21,163
5 North West England £19,937
6 West Midlands £19,428
7 East Midlands £19,317
8 Yorkshire and the Humber £19,053
9 North East England £17,381

Two of the richest 10 areas in the European Union are in the United Kingdom. Inner London is number 1 with a GDP per capita of €65 138, and the Thames Valley (Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire) is number 7 with a GDP per capita of €37 379.[216] Edinburgh is also one of the largest financial centres in Europe.[217]

At the other end of the scale, Cornwall has the lowest GVA per head of any county or unitary authority in England,[218] and it has received EU Convergence funding (formerly Objective One funding) since 2000.[219]


The trade deficit (goods and services) narrowed £0.2 billion to £7.9 billion in the three months to November 2018 as both goods and services exports each increased £0.1 billion more than their respective imports.[220]

Excluding erratic commodities (mainly aircraft) the total trade deficit widened £1.2 billion to £9.5 billion in the three months to November 2018.

Large increases in export prices of oil and aircraft drove the narrowing of the total trade deficit; removing the effect of inflation, the total trade deficit widened £0.3 billion to £6.5 billion in the three months to November 2018.

The trade in goods deficit widened £0.8 billion with EU countries and narrowed £0.9 billion with non-EU countries in the three months to November 2018, due mainly to increases in imports from EU countries and exports to non-EU countries.

The total trade deficit widened £4.1 billion in the 12 months to November 2018 due mainly to a £4.4 billion narrowing in the trade in services surplus.


In 2013 the UK was the leading country in Europe for inward foreign direct investment (FDI) with $26.51bn. This gave it a 19.31% market share in Europe. In contrast, the UK was second in Europe for outward FDI, with $42.59bn, giving a 17.24% share of the European market.[221]

In October 2017, the ONS revised the UK's balance of payments, changing the net international investment position from a surplus of £469bn to a deficit of £22bn. Deeper analysis of outward investment revealed that much of what was thought to be foreign debt securities owned by British companies were actually loans to British citizens. Inward investment also dropped, from a surplus of £120bn in the first half of 2016 to a deficit of £25bn in the same period of 2017. The UK had been relying on a surplus of inward investment to make up for its long-term current account deficit.[222]

Mergers and acquisitions

Since 1985 103,430 deals with UK participation have been announced. There have been three major waves of increased M&A activity (2000, 2007 and 2017; see graph "M&A in the UK"). 1999 however, was the year with the highest cumulated value of deals (490. bil GBP, which is about 50% more than the current peak of 2017). The Finance industry and Energy & Power made up most of the value from 2000 until 2018 (both about 15%).

Here is a list of the top 10 deals including UK companies.[223] The Vodafone - Mannesmann deal is still the biggest deal in global history.

Rank Date Acquirer Acquirer nation Target Target nation Value
1 14 November 1999 Vodafone AirTouch PLC United Kingdom Mannesmann AG Germany 126.95
2 16 September 2015 Anheuser-Busch Inbev SA/NV Belgium SABMiller PLC United Kingdom 77.24
3 4 August 2015 Royal Dutch Shell PLC Netherlands BG Group PLC United Kingdom 46.70
4 17 January 2000 Glaxo Wellcome PLC United Kingdom SmithKline Beecham PLC United Kingdom 46.48
5 28 October 2004 Royal Dutch Petroleum Co Netherlands Shell Transport & Trading Co United Kingdom 40.75
6 21 October 2016 British American Tobacco PLC United Kingdom Reynolds American Inc United States 40.10
7 15 January 1999 Vodafone Group PLC United Kingdom AirTouch Communications Inc United States 36.35
8 30 May 2000 France Telecom SA France Orange PLC United Kingdom 31.14
9 8 November 1998 British Petroleum Co PLC United Kingdom Amoco Corp United States 29.51
10 31 October 2016 GE Oil & Gas United Kingdom Baker Hughes Inc United States 26.63
11 26 February 2009 HM Treasury United Kingdom Royal Bank of Scotland Group United Kingdom 25.50
  • In most cases both the acquiring and target companies have/had shareholders spread throughout the world, not only in the stated countries.

European Union membership

The proportion of the country's exports going to the EU has fallen from 54 percent to 47 percent over the past decade. The total value of exports however, has increased in the same period from £130 billion (€160 billion) to £240 billion (€275 billion).[224][225]

In June 2016 the UK voted to leave the EU in a national referendum on its membership of the EU. After the activation of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the UK had been set to leave on Friday 29 March 2019. However the leave date was extended to Friday 12 April 2019 and then extended again to Thursday 31 October 2019,[226] and then extended again until Friday 31 January 2020 with the ability to exit earlier.[227] The future relationship between the UK and EU is under negotiation, although there are still attempts to prevent the UK's departure from the European Economic Area.

UK economic growth has slowed during 2019, uncertainty over Brexit and a world economic showdown are blamed.[228]


The United Kingdom is a developed country with social welfare infrastructure, thus discussions surrounding poverty tend to use a relatively high minimum income compared to developing countries. According to the OECD, the UK is in the lower half of developed country rankings for poverty rates, doing better than Italy and the US but less well than France, Austria, Hungary, Slovakia and the Nordic countries.[229] Eurostat figures show that the numbers of Britons at risk of poverty has fallen to 15.9% in 2014, down from 17.1% in 2010 and 19% in 2005 (after social transfers were taken into account).[230] Poverty is countered in United Kingdom with the welfare state. There have been protests over the recent welfare changes of introducing Universal Credit. The aim of the government was to simplify the welfare state. People have protested sanctioning of people on Universal Credit, as well as disabled people protesting changes.

The poverty line in the UK is commonly defined as being 60% of the median household income. In 2007–2008, this was calculated to be £115 per week for single adults with no dependent children; £199 per week for couples with no dependent children; £195 per week for single adults with two dependent children under 14; and £279 per week for couples with two dependent children under 14. In 2007–2008, 13.5 million people, or 22% of the population, lived below this line. This is a higher level of relative poverty than all but four other EU members.[231] In the same year, 4.0 million children, 31% of the total, lived in households below the poverty line, after housing costs were taken into account. This is a decrease of 400,000 children since 1998–1999.[232]


This table shows the main economic indicators in 1980–2017.[233] The inflation rate used is the Consumer Price Index. See the government spending and economic management section for historical interest rates.

Year GDP
(in Bn. US$ PPP)
GDP per capita
(in US$ PPP)
GDP growth
Inflation rate
(in %)
(in %)
Government debt
(in % of GDP)
1980 500.1 8,879 −2.0 % 16.8 % 7.1 % 42.5 %
1981 542.6 9,628 −0.8 % 12.2 % 9.7 % 44.8 %
1982 587.9 10,444 2.0 % 8.5 % 10.7 % 43.1 %
1983 636.9 11,309 4.2 % 5.2 % 11.5 % 41.8 %
1984 674.5 11,958 2.3 % 4.4 % 11.8 % 42.3 %
1985 725.3 12,825 4.2 % 5.2 % 11.4 % 41.2 %
1986 763.0 13,461 3.1 % 3.6 % 11.3 % 41.2 %
1987 824.0 14,506 5.3 % 4.1 % 10.4 % 39.3 %
1988 901.9 15,846 5.7 % 4.6 % 8.6 % 37.0 %
1989 961.0 16,838 2.6 % 5.2 % 7.2 % 32.5 %
1990 1,003.8 17,539 0.7 % 7.0 % 7.1 % 28.6 %
1991 1,026.0 17,863 −1.1 % 7.5 % 8.9 % 28.5 %
1992 1,053.3 18,292 0.4 % 4.3 % 10.0 % 33.3 %
1993 1,105.7 19,158 2.5 % 2.5 % 10.4 % 38.1 %
1994 1,173.0 20,272 3.9 % 1.9 % 9.5 % 41.0 %
1995 1,227.0 21,147 2.5 % 2.7 % 8.6 % 43.9 %
1996 1,281.1 22,026 2.5 % 2.5 % 8.1 % 44.1 %
1997 1,355.7 23,249 4.0 % 1.8 % 7.0 % 43.4 %
1998 1,413.4 24,171 3.1 % 1.6 % 6.3 % 41.3 %
1999 1,481.2 25,241 3.2 % 1.3 % 6.0 % 39.9 %
2000 1,570.4 26,669 3.7 % 0.8 % 5.5 % 37.0 %
2001 1,647.1 27,863 2.5 % 1.2 % 5.1 % 34.4 %
2002 1,713.5 28,863 2.5 % 1.3 % 5.2 % 34.5 %
2003 1,805.8 30,279 3.3 % 1.4 % 5.0 % 35.7 %
2004 1,899.3 31,681 2.4 % 1.3 % 4.8 % 38.7 %
2005 2,021.1 33,455 3.1 % 2.1 % 4.8 % 39.9 %
2006 2,134.4 35,089 2.5 % 2.3 % 5.4 % 40.8 %
2007 2,242.8 36,576 2.4 % 2.3 % 5.4 % 41.9 %
2008 2,276.0 36,814 −0.5 % 3.6 % 5.7 % 49.9 %
2009 2,197.2 35,291 −4.2 % 2.2 % 7.6 % 64.1 %
2010 2,261.8 36,038 1.7 % 3.3 % 7.9 % 75.6 %
2011 2,342.0 37,007 1.5 % 4.5 % 8.1 % 81.3 %
2012 2,420.5 37,995 1.5 % 2.8 % 8.0 % 84.5 %
2013 2,510.0 39,154 2.1 % 2.6 % 7.6 % 85.6 %
2014 2,633.1 40,762 3.1 % 1.5 % 6.2 % 87.4 %
2015 2,724.1 41,839 2.3 % 0.0 % 5.4 % 88.2 %
2016 2,812.3 42,839 1.9 % 0.7 % 4.9 % 88.2 %
2017 2,808.9 44,118 1.8 % 2.7 % 4.4 % 87.0 %


  1. The United Kingdom plans to exit the European Union by the end of 2019.
  2. In descending order of size.
  3. Compared to 279% in Japan, 253% in France, 209% in the United States, 206% in Canada, and 198% in Germany.
  4. It was still very unbalanced,[115] with consumption accounting for 100% of growth in that year.[116]
  5. For comparison, Germany saved 9% of GDP and Russia saved 5%, while Japan, Greece, Spain, Italy and China saved between 1% and 3%.


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