The economy of the United Kingdom is highly developed and market-oriented.[25][26] It is the Sixth-largest national economy in the world measured by nominal gross domestic product (GDP), ninth-largest measured by purchasing power parity (PPP), and nineteenth-largest measured by GDP per capita, comprising 3.9% of world GDP.[27] It is the third-largest economy in the European Union after Germany and France.

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,[28] and the third-largest outward foreign direct investment.[29] The UK is one of the most globalised economies,[30] and it is composed of (in descending order of size) the economies of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The service sector dominates the UK economy, contributing around 80% of GDP;[31] the financial services industry is particularly important, and London is the world's largest financial centre.[32] Britain's aerospace industry is the second-largest national aerospace industry.[33] Its pharmaceutical industry, the tenth-largest in the world,[34] plays an important role in the economy. Of the world's 500 largest companies, 26 are headquartered in the UK.[35] The economy is boosted by North Sea oil and gas production; its reserves were estimated at 2.8 billion barrels in 2016,[36] although it has been a net importer of oil since 2005.[37] 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 one of the largest cities by GDP in Europe.[38]

In the 18th century the UK was the first country to industrialise,[39][40][41] and during the 19th century it had a dominant role in the global economy,[42] accounting for 9.1% of the world's GDP in 1870.[43] From the late 19th century 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, it remains a global power and has an influential role in the world economy.[44][45][46][47][48][49]

Government involvement in the British economy 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.[50][51][25][26][52][53] The Bank of England is the UK's central bank and its Monetary Policy Committee is responsible for setting interest rates, quantitative easing, and forward guidance.

The currency of the UK is the pound sterling, which is the world's third-largest reserve currency after the United States dollar and the euro,[54] and is also one of the ten most-valued currencies in the world.

The UK is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, the European Union (currently until 30 March 2019), the G7, the G8, the G20, the International Monetary Fund, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the World Bank, the World Trade Organisation, Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the United Nations.


1945 to 1973

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.[55] 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.[56] According to the OECD, the annual rate of growth between 1960 and 1973 averaged 2.9%, although this figure was far behind the rates of other European countries such as France, West Germany and Italy.[57]


Deindustrialisation meant the closure of operations in mining, heavy industry, and manufacturing, resulting in the loss of highly paid working-class jobs.[58] 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.[59] 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 for the industrial decline.[60] It reached crisis point in the 1970s, with a worldwide energy crisis, high inflation, and a dramatic influx of low-cost manufactured goods from Asia. Coal mining quickly collapsed and practically disappeared by the 21st century.[61] Railways were decrepit, more textile mills closed than opened, steel employment fell sharply, and the car-making industry suffered. Popular responses varied a great deal;[62] Tim Strangleman et al. found a range of responses from the affected workers: Some nostalgically invoked a glorious industrial past or the bygone empire to cope with their new-found personal economic insecurity, many turned to exclusionary Englishness, and others looked to the European Union for help.[63] By the 2010s, grievances had accumulated enough to have a political impact. The United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), based in working-class towns, gained an increasing share of the vote while warning against the dangers of immigration. Political reverberations came to a head in the popular vote in favour of Brexit in 2016.[64]

1973 to 1979

Workforce distribution in Great Britain from 1841–1911, and in England and Wales from 1921–2011

Following 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.[clarification needed] 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,[65] 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.[66][67]

Unemployment rates in the United Kingdom from 1881 until 2016. In the 1980s, unemployment reached levels not seen in the UK since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

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.[68] 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%.[68]

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.[69] 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.[70]

Britain's economy slid into another global recession in late 1990; it shrank by a total of 6% from peak to trough,[71] 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.[68] 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,[68] 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.[72]

1997 to 2008

In May 1997, Labour, led by Tony Blair, won the general election by a landslide after 18 years of Conservative government,[73] and inherited a strong economy with low inflation,[74] falling unemployment,[75] and a current account surplus.[76] 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.[77] 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.[67] Annual growth rates averaged 2.68% between 1992 and 2007,[66] 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.[78] 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.[79]

GDP year-on-year growth rates (seasonally adjusted) in the UK from 1949 to 2016, showing the four major recessions which have taken place.

This extended period of growth ended in Q2 of 2008 when the United Kingdom suddenly entered a recession – its first for nearly two decades – 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.[80] 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.[81][82]

The UK had been one of the strongest economies in terms of inflation, interest rates and unemployment, all of which remained lower until the 2008–09 recession. In August 2008 the IMF warned that the country's outlook had worsened due to a twin shock: financial turmoil and rising commodity prices.[83] 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.[84] The UK's output per hour worked was on a par with the average for the "old" EU-15 countries.[85]

2009 to 2015

In March 2009, the Bank of England cut interest rates to a historic low of 0.5% and began quantitative easing to boost lending and shore up the economy.[86] 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 recession since World War II.[71][87] 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, which made deep spending cuts in order to ease the budget deficit.

In 2011, total debt (national, household, financial, and business debts) stood at 497% of GDP in the UK, compared to 492% in Japan, 341% in France, 289% in the United States, 284% in Germany, and 274% in Canada.[88] As the world's most indebted country, spending and investment in the UK were held back after the recession, creating economic malaise. However, it was recognised that government borrowing, which rose from 52% to 76% of GDP, had helped to avoid a 1930s-style depression.[89]

Between 2005 and 2011, the UK dropped from 5th place to 12th in terms of household income globally. It was partially attributed to the devaluation of sterling. However, inflation was steady, the labour market had been more resilient compared to other recessions, and wealth and household spending were strong relative to other OECD countries.[90]

Productivity (measured as output per hour worked) stagnated in the UK between 2007 and 2015.

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, and by October 2013 unemployment was below 2.5 million for the first time in four years. By the end of 2014, UK GDP growth had become the fastest in the Group of Seven (G7) and in Europe,[91] and employment was at its highest since records began.[92] In stark contrast to the early 2000s, the UK had one of the least productive workforces of the major economies, following seven years of stagnation in productivity. Output per hour worked was 18% below the average for the rest of the G7.[93] Wages had fallen by 10% in real terms since 2008, whilst wages grew in Germany by 14%, in France by 11%, and across the OECD by an average of 6.7%.[94] A rise in unsecured household debt added to questions over the sustainability of the economic recovery.[95][96][97][98] The Bank of England insisted there was no cause for alarm,[99] despite having said two years earlier that the recovery was "neither balanced nor sustainable".[100]

Between 2009 and 2015,[101] the current account deficit rose from 3% of GDP to a record high of 5.2% (£96.2bn),[102] the highest by GDP in the developed world.[103] In Q4 2015, it exceeded 7%, a level not witnessed during peacetime since records began in 1772.[104] The UK relied on foreign investors to plug the shortfall in its balance of payments.[105]

2016 to present day

Following the UK's decision in June 2016 to leave the European Union, the Bank of England cut interest rates to a new historic low of 0.25% to bolster confidence in the economy. The Bank also bought £60bn of UK government bonds and £10bn of corporate bonds, taking the amount of quantitative easing since the Great Recession to £435bn.[106]

The previous 10 years had been the worst decade for real wage growth since the 1860s. Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, described it as a lost decade. Productivity was 16% below the long-term trend,[107] and the recovery was still very unbalanced,[108] with consumption accounting for 100% of growth in 2016.[109] Households ran an unprecedented deficit of 3% of GDP.[104] Unemployment continued to fall, resulting in a 42-year low of 4.4% in June 2017, but real earnings also fell due to rising inflation.[110]

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. A widely anticipated improvement in the UK's trade balance on the back of a weaker pound failed to materialise as of Q3 2017.[111]

In the decade to 2018, overall UK productivity growth was the worst since the 1820s, with any growth being attributed to a fall in working hours rather than an increase in output. Jobs had also been lost in the highly efficient manufacturing sector and gained in the less productive service sector.[112]

Government spending and economic management

UK interest rate from 1800 to 2017

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.[113] 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.[114] In July 2007, the UK had government debt at 35.5% of GDP.[115] 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.[114][115] 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.[116] For the financial year of 2013–2014 public sector net borrowing was £93.7 billion.[116] This was £13.0 billion higher than in the financial year of 2012–2013.


The headquarters of HM Revenue & Customs in London

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.



A combine harvester in use
A combine harvester in use in Scotland

Agriculture in the UK is intensive, highly mechanised, and efficient by European standards, producing about 60% of food needs,[117] with less than 1.6% of the labour force (535,000 workers).[117] It contributes around 0.6% of British national value added.[117] Around two-thirds of the production is devoted to livestock, one-third to arable crops.[117] 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.[118]


The construction industry of the United Kingdom contributed gross value of £86 billion to the UK economy in 2011.[118] The industry employed around 2.2 million people in the fourth quarter of 2009.[119] 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.[119] 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.[119]

The largest construction project in the UK is Crossrail. Due to open in 2018, it will be a new railway line running east to west through London and into the surrounding countryside with a branch to Heathrow Airport.[120] 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.[121][122]

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.[118] The United Kingdom is expected to launch the building of new nuclear reactors to replace existing generators and to boost UK's energy reserves.[123]


A Rolls-Royce Trent 900 aircraft jet engine, seen here on an Airbus A380

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.[124][125][126]

In 2011 the UK manufacturing sector generated approximately £140,539 million in gross value added and employed around 2.6 million people.[118][127] Of the approximately £16 billion invested in R&D by UK businesses in 2008, approximately £12 billion was by manufacturing businesses.[127] In 2008, the UK was the sixth-largest manufacturer in the world measured by value of output.[128]

In 2008 around 180,000 people in the UK were directly employed in the UK automotive manufacturing sector.[129] 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.[129] The UK is a major centre for engine manufacturing, and in 2008 around 3.16 million engines were produced in the country.[129]

The aerospace industry of the UK is the second- or third-largest aerospace industry in the world, depending upon the method of measurement.[130][131] The industry employs around 113,000 people directly and around 276,000 indirectly and has an annual turnover of around £20 billion.[132][133] British companies with a major presence in the industry include BAE Systems (the world's second-largest defence contractor)[134] and Rolls-Royce (the world's second-largest aircraft engine maker).[135] Foreign aerospace companies active in the UK include EADS and its Airbus subsidiary, which employs over 13,000 people in the UK.[136]

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.[137][138] In 2007 exports of pharmaceutical products from the UK totalled £14.6 billion, creating a trade surplus in pharmaceutical products of £4.3 billion.[139] The UK is home to GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca, respectively the world's third- and seventh-largest pharmaceutical companies.[140][141]

Mining, quarrying and hydrocarbons

UK trade balance in crude oil and petroleum from 1890 until 2015. After 25 years of net exports, the UK became a net importer of oil in 2005.

The Blue Book 2013 reports that this sector added gross value of £31,380 million to the UK economy in 2011.[118] 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%).[142] In 2009, the UK produced 1.5 million barrels per day (bbl/d) of oil and consumed 1.7 million bbl/d.[143] Production is now in decline and the UK has been a net importer of oil since 2005.[143] As of 2010 the UK has around 3.1 billion barrels of proven crude oil reserves, the largest of any EU member state.[143]

In 2009 the UK was the 13th largest producer of natural gas in the world and the largest producer in the EU.[144] Production is now in decline and the UK has been a net importer of natural gas since 2004.[144] In 2009 the UK produced 19.7 million tons of coal and consumed 60.2 million tons.[142] In 2005 it had proven recoverable coal reserves of 171 million tons.[142] 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).[145] Based on current UK coal consumption, these volumes represent reserves that could last the UK between 200 and 400 years.[146]

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.[147][148]

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.

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.[149] Key areas include London and the North West of England, which are the two largest creative industry clusters in Europe.[150] According to the British Fashion Council, the fashion industry’s contribution to the UK economy in 2014 is ₤26 billion, up from ₤21 billion pounds in 2009.[151] The UK is home to the world's largest advertising company, WPP.

Education, health and social work

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham, a major NHS hospital

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.[118]

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.[152][153][154] 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.[155]

In 2007/08 higher education institutions in the UK had a total income of £23 billion and employed a total of 169,995 staff.[156] 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).[156]

Financial and business services

The UK financial services industry added gross value of £116,363 million to the UK economy in 2011.[118] 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).[32][157] 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.[158][159] 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.[160]

Several other major UK cities have large financial sectors and related services. Edinburgh has one of the largest financial centres in Europe[161] and is home to the headquarters of the Royal Bank of Scotland Group and Standard Life. Leeds is now[when?] the UK's largest centre for business and financial services outside London,[162][163][164] and the largest centre for legal services in the UK after London.[165][166][167]

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.[168][169][170][171] 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.[172]

Hotels and restaurants

The Fox Inn, a small, family-owned restaurant in England

The Blue Book 2013 reports that this industry added gross value of £36,554 million to the UK economy in 2011.[118] 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 USA in December 2005.


A study in 2014 found that prostitution and associated services added over £5 billion to the economy each year.[173]

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.[118]

Real estate and renting activities

The Trafford Centre shopping complex in Manchester; it was sold for £1.6 billion in 2011 in the largest property sale in British history[174]

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.[118] 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.[175]

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.[176]


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.[177] 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).[178]

Transport, storage and communication

Transport modal share from 1952 to 2015, showing the initial rise in car use, which peaked in 1994 and declined gently as rail use increased.[179]

The transport and storage industry added 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.[118]

The UK has a radial road network of 46,904 kilometres (29,145 mi) of main roads, with a motorway network of 3,497 kilometres (2,173 mi). There are a further 213,750 kilometres (132,818 mi) of paved roads. The railway infrastructure company Network Rail owns and operates the majority of the 16,116 km (10,014 mi) railway lines in Great Britain and a further 303 route km (189 route mi) in Northern Ireland is owned and operated by Northern Ireland Railways. Since privatisation, around 20 Train Operating Companies operate the passenger trains. Urban rail networks are well developed in major cities including Glasgow, Liverpool and London. The government is to spend £30 billion on a new high-speed railway line, HS2, to be operational by 2026.[180] Crossrail, under construction in London, Is Europe's largest construction project with a £15 billion projected cost.[181][182]

The Highways Agency is the executive agency responsible for trunk roads and motorways in England apart from the privately owned and operated M6 Toll.[183] 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.[184] 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.[185][186]

In the year from October 2009 to September 2010 UK airports handled a total of 211.4 million passengers.[187] In that period the three largest airports were London Heathrow Airport (65.6 million passengers), Gatwick Airport (31.5 million passengers) and London Stansted Airport (18.9 million passengers).[187] London Heathrow Airport, located 24 kilometres (15 mi) west of the capital, has the most international passenger traffic of any airport in the world.[188][189] and is the hub for the UK flag carrier British Airways, as well as BMI and Virgin Atlantic.[190] London's six commercial airports form the world's largest city airport system measured by passenger traffic.[191]

Wholesale and retail trade

A Tesco supermarket at Kingston Park, Newcastle upon Tyne

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.[118]

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.[192]

The UK grocery market is dominated by four companies: Asda (owned by Wal-Mart Stores), Morrisons, Sainsbury's and Tesco.[193]

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.[194] The UK-based Tesco is the third-largest retailer in the world measured by revenues (after Wal-Mart Stores and Carrefour) and as of 2011 was the leader in the UK market with around a 30% share.[195]


The Bank of England; the central bank of the United Kingdom.

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.[54]

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.[196] 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.[197] In 2005, more than half (55%) of the UK were against adopting the currency, while 30% were in favour.[198] 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.

Source: OANDA.COM Historical Currency Converter
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.[citation needed]

Economy by region

A map of the UK divided by the average GDP per capita in 2007 (in euros) showing the distribution of economic activity

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[201]
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 Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire is number 7 with a GDP per capita of €37 379.[202] Edinburgh is also one of the largest financial centres in Europe.[203]

At the other end of the scale, Cornwall has the lowest GVA per head of any county or unitary authority in England,[204] and it has received EU Convergence funding (formerly Objective One funding) since 2000.[205]


U.K. balance of trade in goods (since 1870)
Trade in goods and services balance (U.K.)

2018 UK Trade bulletin January 2018

Treemap of United Kingdom Exports (2016) from Harvard Atlas of Economic Complexity

The total UK trade (goods and services) deficit widened by £3.4 billion to £8.7 billion in the three months to January 2018; excluding erratic commodities, the deficit widened by £2.6 billion to £8.9 billion.

The £3.4 billion widening of the total trade (goods and services) deficit was due to a £3.2 billion widening of the trade in goods deficit and a £0.2 billion narrowing of the trade in services surplus.

The widening of the trade in goods deficit was due mainly to a £1.3 billion increase in imports (particularly fuels) from non-EU countries, combined with a £1.2 billion decrease in exports (including fuels) to non-EU countries, in the three months to January 2018.

Large decreases in fuels export volumes combined with increases in fuels import prices had the largest impact on the widening of the trade in goods deficit in the three months to January 2018.

Between December 2017 and January 2018, the UK total trade (goods and services) deficit widened by £0.6 billion, due primarily to an increase in goods imports including aircraft and cars from non-EU countries and fuels (refined oil) from EU countries.

Comparing the three months to January 2018 with the same period in 2017, the UK total trade (goods and services) deficit widened by £0.4 billion; due primarily to increases of £5.7 billion and £3.1 billion in goods (particularly fuels) and services imports respectively.

Revisions to the total trade (goods and services) balance are mainly upward from January 2017 to December 2017, due mostly to upward revisions to services exports combined with downward revisions to goods imports.

Foreign direct investment

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.[206]

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 th 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.[207] The Vodafone - Mannesmann deal is still the biggest deal in global history.

Rank Date Acquirer Acquirer Nation Target Target Nation Value
1 11.14.1999 Vodafone AirTouch PLC United Kingdom Mannesmann AG Germany 126.95
2 09.16.2015 Anheuser-Busch Inbev SA/NV Belgium SABMiller PLC United Kingdom 77.24
3 04.08.2015 Royal Dutch Shell PLC Netherlands BG Group PLC United Kingdom 46.70
4 01.17.2000 Glaxo Wellcome PLC United Kingdom SmithKline Beecham PLC United Kingdom 46.48
5 10.28.2004 Royal Dutch Petroleum Co Netherlands Shell Transport & Trading Co United Kingdom 40.75
6 10.21.2016 British American Tobacco PLC United Kingdom Reynolds American Inc United States 40.10
7 01.15.1999 Vodafone Group PLC United Kingdom AirTouch Communications Inc United States 36.35
8 05.30.2000 France Telecom SA France Orange PLC United Kingdom 31.14
9 08.11.1998 British Petroleum Co PLC United Kingdom Amoco Corp United States 29.51
10 10.31.2016 GE Oil & Gas United Kingdom Baker Hughes Inc United States 26.63
11 02.26.2009 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 United Kingdom is a member of the EU single market.

As a member of the European Union, the UK has negotiated and agreed to numerous EU-wide trade and market policies. According to the 2014 report within the "Balance of EU competences" review, the majority of the EU trade policies have been beneficial for the UK, despite the proportion of the country's exports going to the EU falling 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).[208][209]

In June 2016 the UK voted to leave the EU in a national referendum on its membership of the EU. The long-term consequences of this vote are unclear at present.[210]


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.[211] 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).[212]

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.[213] 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.[214]


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