I have seen lots of comment, status updates and debate on our recent social unrest/crime/revolution (delete as applicable). Of course there is never one simple direct cause to such phenomena, but I have seen a lot thrown in to the melting pot for consideration. This got me thinking. Where are we as a country; are we the worst, the best, the most shocking, the most moderate? It seemed worth finding some sort of data to capture this. So, and I promise no charts or analysis, let’s take a trip through league tables:
“We pay too high a tax and it puts people off working”; “Corporation tax puts firms off” and other such statements:
Let’s start with top rate tax. Now income tax is really hard to compare as each country uses a different threshold and different additions and bits –it’s as bad as mobile phone tariffs! But our level of top rate tax is the 18th highest (high = bad) rate (below France, Germany, well most of Europe – and the USA!). I will focus mostly on OECD type countries in this blog. But that’s an interesting start. The UK is not too dear a place to be rich in terms of tax.
But will we ever get to be rich? Well the average wage is 4th highest (high = good) when converted to dollars (depends on $ exchange rate of course). Of course we should never rely on averages as the data is skewed – more latter.
Interestingly (I think) the average wage to top rate tax threshold multiplier is 1.3 – 10th lowest (low =- good) – so our average is closer to top rate tax payer than many countries (don’t worry the top rate starts at about £37,000 – so you can see how high the average is).
But we don’t just pay tax we also pay NI and if we look at an ‘all in’ measure then we come 6th internationally for top-rate payers (51%)– but next 11 are all similar – the USA is as low as 43% - but of course you get no free health, no NHS so no need to pay for it through tax.
Ok so what if you only earn average wage (OECD)? Well if you have no kids tax is the 14th highest (high = bad) - but in fairness next 3 are about same and USA is 2.5% less. Get yourself some children and we are 8th (but tax has dropped by 6%) next 7 are about the same (so little difference in our position with or without children) – US is very generous in this regard with about 10% less tax
So that explains individuals what about firms?
Well not too good being an SME big enough to pay corporation tax (OECD), we are 7th highest (high = bad)– but lower surprisingly lower than the USA (by 0.1%). France is 5% lower but they did invent the word entrepreneur after all.
Big Business (OECD) does well. This time we are 17th highest (high = bad) – below Mexico and 14% below (cheaper!) than the US and Japan (we are about the same as Korea). So a good place for big business, not so good for medium sized.
Finally we also pay tax on things we buy. With regard to VAT (OECD) we are 10th highest (high = bad) (with 4 others) and we were 20th before the rise this year. Finally the old favourite fuel; petrol is the 6th highest – but 5 (including France and Germany) are within 7p.
A more complex index that shows all of these taxes merged together places us at 29th (low = good) with Germany and the two lowest in Europe by some way.
Families and benefits:
Parents and Children (New York Times)
Not easy to get data but about 70% of children live with two adults – but this places us about 4th – and almost ties with the USA. What is perhaps surprising is that 50% of those single parents do not work – however about 40% seems max for Europe so we are not alone.
Of course maybe benefits are too high? Well we are ranked 16th – a tiny bit above USA and it makes up about 0.3% of our GDP. So we are neither the most generous nor does it consume a lot of our GDP.
Do we work harder? Well 50% work more than 40 hours, placing us 9th (high= lot of hours) – but above this is a strange mix of Japan and USA (expected) and Italy and Switzerland (well less expected by me anyway).
Contrasting back to the previous statistic about non-working single mums 55% of mums in general do not work (child under 6) which places us 11th highest (high = lots work) (interestingly in Japan only 35% of mums with under 6s work).
When we are there are we productive? Unfortunately no – we are about 30th. Unemployed – well about 19th highest (high = productive) – so not that high. And 24th for 15-24 year olds. So we do work, we work averagely long hours, but we aren’t very good at it (it would seem).
I’m not even going to repeat some of what I have heard, even as examples. But what it the picture of diversity in contemporary Britain? Well do you think we are ‘flooded’? Not even close. 85% white British, 87% including Irish and 92% white in total. So where does that leave us in a league table? Well for a start quite far behind the USA which has 75% white, behind South Africa which has 80% black (yes South Africa is more diverse than we are), behind Germany which manages 91% (ok so they won that one on penalties maybe), about the same as China, way behind New Zealand at 70% and behind Holland (83%) and about the same as Australia. So we are not exactly diverse by international standards.
So far we have looked at income, taxes and productivity. Clearly we are wealthier in absolute terms than the majority of people on the planet – but what about cost of living and distribution of wealth?
Well in terms of consumer prices in general it is not cheap. We are 14th highest (high = dear) but below some of our near neighbours (France, Denmark, Sweden etc). If you are looking for rental property it is worst – we are 11th and things are not much better for groceries (14th again) and all those celebrity chefs have not moved us from 11th dearest for dinning out either. So not the dearest place to live; but certainly not the cheapest.
With regards to the gap between rich and poor I am pleased to say we are not in the worst 20. We are also not in the top 30 either! Another data sets shows we are worse than the OECD average and a tiny bit fairer than Poland; but way off the majority of Europe. So, not the fairest place to live in terms of income distribution.
Literacy is a little tricky, it is assumed to be 99% in developed countries and so is not recorded. Some data are available and it does make a very pretty chart – even if ugly reading. About 20th (1 = best) for reading, 22nd for math and 11th for science. Not too impressive.
Are we soft on crime? Well we are ranked a lowly 92nd in international standards with ‘only’ 150 people per 100,000 locked up. But, before you pen your letter to The Mail, let’s look a bit more closely. The USA, Russia and Israel are ‘ahead’ of us – last time I looked the USA and Russia had not solved their crime problems? Also ahead are numerous island states and a few eastern European countries. But when we compare with France, Germany, Sweden, Norway etc we are far ahead. The link between occurrence of crime and prison is clear enough but the link between prison and reduction in crime is not so clear.
In case you thought we had too much freedom as an explanation of the need to lock us up our privacy score places us in 14th (1st = best) – a tiny bit better than China. Linking many of these measures together we can use a Human Development Index score – this composite of wealth, poverty, education and other measures again places us around 16th internationally.
So where has this left us? Well we are not diverse, we are not over generous with benefits, our taxes are not high but our inequality is. We are not too good in school but we are very good at locking people up. Whatever caused the recent riots you can be sure of one thing – it wasn’t one thing! Understanding the complex way these variables work together, within the policy framework and cultural narrative that exists in contemporary Britain will go some way to understanding the problem and from that moving to a solution – I doubt it’s water cannon.