Bouncing back or basket case? The state of the UK economy

Battle of Ideas festival 2023, Saturday 28 October, Church House, London


Back in the Noughties, a popular image was of the ‘Polish plumber’, coming to the UK to earn more money. But with UK living standards stalling and Poland’s economy growing, could Brits soon be heading the other way? Labour has claimed that Poland’s GDP per person could overtake the UK’s by the end of the decade. Slovenia could overtake the UK as early as next year.

It seems after the problems of the past few years that the UK economy has been in the doldrums. GDP has barely risen above pre-Covid levels and inflation has lingered for longer than elsewhere. Even the poorest US states have higher levels of GDP per person than the UK. For some commentators, the answer is obvious: Brexit. But that hardly explains the fact that the UK economy has struggled for decades.

Yet perhaps the doom-and-gloom is one-sided. Indeed, government ministers argue that such arguments are talking the economy down. According to IMF figures published in April this year, the UK has the sixth-largest economy in the world with GDP per person similar to France and Italy. The UK remains in the top 10 countries for manufacturing ‘value added’. Our leading universities are regularly ranked as among the best in the world. The City of London is one of the two biggest financial services providers, dominating Europe and second only to New York.

Has the UK really stagnated while other countries have leapt ahead? Are things really that bad here, and if so, why?

Sam Bowman
editor, Works in Progress; board member, Mercatus Center

William Clouston
party leader, Social Democratic Party

Phil Mullan
writer, lecturer and business manager; author, Beyond Confrontation: globalists, nationalists and their discontents

Professor Vicky Pryce
chief economic adviser and board member, Centre for Economics and Business Research; author, Women vs Capitalism

Rob Lyons
science and technology director, Academy of Ideas; convenor, AoI Economy Forum