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UK Health Spending since 1997

At Navigate, we've recently launched a new series of posts looking at the data behind the stories at the forefront of UK politics.

This week we've taken a look at health spending by successive UK governments over the past 25 years. In the graph below we've set out three comparable sets of data: total government spending as a percentage of GDP, government spending on health as a percentage of total expenditure, and finally government spending on health as a percentage of GDP:

A huge range of conclusions can be drawn from the data, but perhaps most notably:

  1. Total Government spending as a percentage of GDP has increased dramatically since 1997, rising from 23.3% (£342bn) to 51.3% (£1.1tn) in 2021.

  2. Government spending on health as a percentage of its total expenditure has also risen, from 14.5% (£49.5bn) in 1997 to 20.8% (£229bn) in 2021.

  3. Whilst appearing the least dramatic (as the smallest line on the graph), Government expenditure on health as a percentage of GDP has more than tripled since 1997, rising from 3.4% to 10.7% in 2021.

For context we've included in a further graph below the full figures (in £bn) for total government expenditure, and government expenditure on health, to show the increase in terms of pounds spent:

Finally, and perhaps most interesting of all, is what we see when we take a look at the cumulative percentage increase in government spending on healthcare from 1997 to 2021, recalculated using the Office for National Statistics' GDP deflator, to see just how much government spending on healthcare has increased over the time period. The GDP deflator enables us to adjust the amounts spent on healthcare in all the years to 2021 levels based on inflation, to give us truly comparable data:

...and the result is quite staggering; showing that since 1997, the amount spent on healthcare by successive governments (in 2021 prices) has increased by more than 107% - a dramatic increase in spending over the past quarter of a century.

Readers with a beady eye will also be able to spot the nuances across all three graphs where new Prime Ministers took power and set their own quite distinctive agendas - in 1997 (Blair), 2007 (Brown), 2010 (Cameron), 2016 (May) and 2019 (Johnson).

Sources: ONS and HM Treasury

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