United Kingdom


Policy Performance


Economic Policies

With growth returning following the financial crisis, the United Kingdom receives high overall rankings (rank 10) in the area of economic policy. Its score on this measure has improved by 0.5 points relative to 2014.

Budgetary consolidation has led to deep cuts in public spending. GDP growth has returned to moderate levels, unemployment has fallen significantly, and employment is at an all-time high. Concerns over weak real wages triggered an increase in the national minimum wage. “Zero-hour” contracts continue to provoke controversy, and youth unemployment remains at worrisome levels.

Income taxes are progressive, with significant opportunity for avoidance at high income levels. Budget deficits have declined but remain at moderately high levels. Plans to achieve budget surpluses will require further welfare cuts.

The university R&D sector remains active, but overall spending is comparatively weak. The country and its financial sector have had substantial influence on European financial reforms.

Social Policies

With a largely effective welfare system, the United Kingdom scores well overall (rank 7) with regard to social policies. Its score on this measure has declined by 0.1 point since 2014.

Competition-based reforms are complicating the public-private school-system divide, with disadvantaged youth experiencing new access challenges despite support programs. Higher-education fee hikes have been very controversial, though enrollment rates have remained steady.

Child poverty is down, and tertiary enrollment rates for disadvantaged students are up. However, inequality is rising, and the high NEET share (not in employment, education or training) is a concern. A housing shortage has particularly affected urban low-income households. Gender-equity, child-care and parental-leave policies are robust.

The universal health care service remains strong, with decentralization proposals sparking debate. Pension reforms have shifted risk to individual pensioners, but the system is fiscally sustainable. Anti-immigration rhetoric is on the rise, and concern over terrorist threats continues.

Environmental Policies

As a strong voice for environmental protection internationally, the United Kingdom receives a high overall ranking (rank 10) for its environmental policies. After a slight gain last year, its score on this measure has fallen back to its 2014 level.

Despite strong environmental rhetoric, subsidies for green energy have been cut, and the government has intensified support for fracking and nuclear power. Market-based mechanisms continue to inform environmental policy, mixed with planning systems, as with the effort to protect green belts around urban areas. Some ecological programs have fallen victim to spending cuts.

The coalition government’s carbon-emissions targets have been retained, and plans are underway to deregulate the on-shore wind-farm permitting process.



Quality of Democracy

Despite a robust and well-regulated electoral system, the United Kingdom receives middling overall scores (rank 20) with respect to democracy quality. After a slight decline last year, its score on this measure now represents a 0.1 point gain relative to 2014.

Paid television campaign advertising is banned, but major parties are granted free ad time. Donation-based party funding has produced abuses. Through referendums are not binding, examples such as the votes on Scottish independence and “Brexit” have been hugely influential.

While the media is broadly independent, recent scandals exposed links between press organizations and politicians. The government has actively sought to prevent reporting on the issue of state surveillance. Media concentration is significant.

Civil rights are generally adequately protected, but anti-terrorism measures have become increasingly harsh, and surveillance programs have been exposed as being broader than expected. Anti-discrimination laws are broad, though some racial and social prejudice remains.



Executive Capacity

With its powerful core executive, the United Kingdom falls into the top ranks internationally (rank 6) with regard to executive capacity. Its score on this measure has increased by 0.5 points since 2014.

The prime minister sets the government agenda, while the Cabinet Office coordinates policy development. Strategic planning has been improved, in part through civil-service professionalization. Coordination has become simpler under the non-coalition government. Interministerial coordination has been undermined by staffing cuts.

RIAs are routinely performed, with sustainability an element of the review. Efforts to consult organized economic and civil-society groups are made, often in the impact-assessment process. However, external groups are not formally incorporated into decision-making.

Despite its return to one-party rule, the Conservative government has had difficulty in controlling right-wing anti-EU members. The powers of the Scottish Parliament have increased. Local authorities in England have been hard-hit by spending cuts.

Executive Accountability

With a mix of strengths and weaknesses, the United Kingdom falls into the upper-middle ranks (rank 13) with respect to executive accountability. After a slight gain last year, its score on this measure has returned to its 2014 level.

Parliamentarians, especially in the opposition, have relatively few resources, though formal oversight powers are adequate. The National Audit Office is independent and well-regarded, while the most visible ombuds office focuses primarily on health-service issues.

Citizens have a moderate level of policy knowledge. Increasing amounts of government information are available online, with outreach campaigns targeting specific groups. Although the country’s main broadcast media produce high-quality news programming, newspaper quality varies widely.

Parties allow members – and in Labour’s case, “registered supporters” – to elect leaders, but other decisions are more centralized. Economic and civil-society organizations are sophisticated and offer reasonable, if sometimes narrow, proposals.
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