Facts might be sacred, but statistics are somewhat more pliable.
As my colleague Chris Giles revealed this morning, the introduction of global accounting standards in the UK this autumn is set to propel Britain up the savings ratio rankings.
We don’t know yet whether this means Britain’s reputation as a spendthrift nation is on the way out, but there is little doubt statistical changes can shape the way we think about countries.
1. Italy’s 1987 “Il sorpasso”
How do you measure the black economy? Well, when Italy took its first stab at it in 1987, its economy grew by 18 per cent overnight, overtaking Britain in the international rankings and prompting celebrations in Rome.
Italy’s GDP figures today are still adjusted to take account of the notoriously large size of the shadow economy. Estimates put it at between 20 and 25 per cent of its total GDP, compared to an average among industrial countries of some 15 per cent. Read more
Falling inflation, galloping house prices, rising retail sales and growing business confidence are all feeding into expectations for strong economic growth in the UK this year.
With the first quarter GDP numbers due out later this month, expect a tidal wave of discussion and comment about the completeness of the UK recovery. But a timely new paper from the Office for National Statistics offers a good reminder of why GDP on its own is a poor measure of economic well-being.
Take GDP itself as a starting point.
It is calculated without reference to the size of population, so while the headline number has re-bounded, when you consider population growth the picture looks a lot less rosy.
Per person, it has barely budged since 2008. On the official budget forecasts, UK economic output will have risen 8 per cent between the two general elections, per capita gross domestic product is predicted to have increased by only 3.8 per cent. But until this gap narrows, families are unlikely to feel better off. Read more
Banks have paid more than $100bn in legal settlements with US regulators since the financial crisis, data compiled by FT reporters shows.
(c) Getty Images
Anyone who spends time in the capital, where flocks of cyclists are a feature of life, will nod in recognition at the news that the number of people cycling to work in London has doubled over the last decade.
But what’s less known is how far this increase has been driven by the gentrification of inner London. House prices have soared in London’s poorest urban boroughs as 20-somethings and families have stayed in London, rather than moving out to suburbia.
||Change in average house price 2001-2011
||Change in people cycling to work 2001-2011
||IMD ranking (1=most deprived)
(Source: ONS, Land Registry) Read more
Elena is a 26 year old Italian woman with a degree in child psychology who has been working in London as a nursery teacher for nearly a year. She moved to the UK after months spent looking in vain for a job in Tuscany, a region where the unemployment rate, at 7.9%, is well below the Italian average of 11.3%.
But Elena is not counted among more than 16,000 Italians that moved to the UK, according to official statistics updated for the FT by the Italian Ministry of Interior. These numbers are based on the registry of Italians living abroad (AIRE). Elena has a vague knowledge of this register but decided not to sign up for fear of losing important rights and services (including healthcare) in her home country. Read more
Much of the coverage of the latest English Housing Survey figures has focused on the booming private rented sector. But there’s something interesting to be said about the social rented sector too. Namely, that social housing is ageing – maybe even dying.
Not just figuratively – the proportion of housing stock which is social rented has dropped from nearly a third in 1980 to under 17 per cent in 2013 – but also literally, in terms of its tenants.
The biggest group of tenants in social housing is not, as is popularly thought, the unemployed. It’s not the working poor either. The biggest group of tenants in England’s social housing is retired people.
By contrast, the biggest group in private rented housing is full-time workers.
As a result, social housing is dominated by older people – while private rented housing is dominated by young people. Read more