By Adam Walker, Economics Correspondent
A common misconception, often inferred in political and economic debate, is that the United Kingdom ranks in the top five or ten positions for socio-economic factors across the board.
The UK has been an economic and political superpower for years and currently ranks as the 6th largest global economy with an estimated value of £1.5 trillion in 2013. However, how competitive are we for other factors such as education, democracy and currency strength? Do we maintain these perceived high standards in a world where new economic and political superpowers are developing every year?
Time for a Reality Check
Currently the UK is ranked as the 13th most socially advanced country globally according to the Social Progress index, designed to take into account a variety of economic factors to more accurately calculate a country’s performance instead of simply judging by total GDP. The UK’s main downfall was the fact it placed 37th for national “Health and Wellness” and 21st for “Personal Safety” proving that, despite our economic strength, there are still a variety of flaws within our social infrastructure that require attention and investment. The British Pound is currently 21st based on Purchasing Power Parity according to data published by the International Monetary Fund in early 2014, demonstrating the slow recovery of confidence in the currency following the financial crisis in 2008.
Our political system shows equally worrying signs, with the UK placed 16th on the 2012 Democracy Index published by The Economist Intelligence Unit. The report added that the UK’s poor performance was down to the fact that it is “beset by a deep institutional crisis”. In terms of Press Freedom the UK ranks 33rd according to Reporters Without Borders in 2014 following events such as the 2013 detention of David Miranda. The Institute for Economics and Peace calculated that the UK ranked 44th in 2013 on the Global Peace Index Report placing it firmly outside the top 20 per cent of most peaceful countries in the world that year. Furthermore, the United Nations Development Programme published its 2013 report placing the UK 27th in the Human Development Index, which is calculated using factors such as average life expectancy, education and income.
Even in terms of education, where four out of the top ten universities in the world are located within the UK, standards are not as high as we would like to believe. The OECD placed the United Kingdom in 26th for educational standards in 2013 following similar rankings for Maths and Literacy where performances steadily decreased over the past decade.
So it would appear that our perceptions of global competitiveness are misguided at best. Indeed, the same UNDP report predicts that by 2020 the economic output of China, Brazil and India will be greater than that of the UK, USA, Canada, Italy, France and Germany combined. Few would believe that we are currently one of the top economic superpowers but it seems that we will be losing our title of “superpower” altogether by the end of the decade.
What Does This Say About The UK?
The point of collating data is not to prove that perceptions are wrong, but to illustrate there are demarcated issues that need to be addressed. The first step in solving any problem is recognising and accepting that there is one, and at times, it feels like we as a nation are burying our heads in the sand. Not only are our performances slipping, but the standards to which we hold these performances are becoming more relaxed. As other nations invest in technological and social advancement we are scared to stray outside of our comfort zone and, as a result, we are stagnating.
The longer we hold a belief that the UK is still a global competitor, the harder it will be for us to turn the country around when things begin to get desperate. We are out of the top ten advanced nations and sliding towards the fringes of the top 20. With the world economy re-stabilising and the UK looking for investment in future prosperity we need to look at strengthening our political and social infrastructure to help drive long-term, competitive growth. We need to be looking at ways of providing better healthcare and security for citizens, reducing our military expenditure in favour of sustainable international trade and providing a transparent democracy that delivers information to the populace rather than withholding it. There will be critics out there who call this a fool’s dream but for the nations at the top of the table it was one worth aspiring to.