The UK has one of the largest economies in the world. In the past, the UK economy was dominated by heavy manufacturing industry powered by coal. However, in the second half of the 20th century, heavy manufacturing declined due to competition from abroad and changes in technology. Factories closed and many people lost their jobs. The UK’s economy is now dominated by the service sector (including financial services, tourism and high-technology industries based on research, media and creativity). There is still some manufacturing in the UK (including cars, chemicals, light engineering and food processing) and construction is also important (including housing, road building and major transport projects such as Crossrail).
What have been the major political and economic changes since 1997?
- Between 1997 and 2007, under a Labour government, the UK economy grew strongly and unemployment decreased. This was partly due to the government’s priorities of encouraging investment in new technologies (e.g. computer industries) and investing in university education which led to a more skilled workforce.
- However, in early 1998, the UK entered a recession. Businesses failed, GDP decreased and unemployment rose (from 1.6 million in January 2008 to 2.5 million by October 2009). The government had to change their priorities to end the recession. To do this they supported businesses so they didn’t go bankrupt (which would further increase unemployment). They decreased taxes on good to encourage spending and international trade. They also borrowed money from overseas investors and private companies.
- The recession ended in late 2009 and the government had to focus on repaying the money it had borrowed as well as finding the unemployed new jobs. To achieve this they cut spending on public services such as education, pensions and defence. To decrease unemployment they provided training for job-seekers and supported new businesses.
- In 2010, the Labour party lost the election and was replaced by a coalition government of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. The new government introduced further spending cuts to reduce the country’s fiinancial deficit. Strong growth of jobs in the private sector reduced unemployment to below 2.5 million by October 2013.
How have employment sectors changed since 2001?
- Since 2001, the largest increase has been in jobs in quaternary industries (research and development).
- Jobs in secondary industries (manufacturing) have decreased due to improving technology as well as cheaper materials and labour being available overseas.
- The number of people working in primary (agriculture and mining) and tertiary (services) has roughly remainly the same.
- The biggest increases have been in professional and technical jobs (e.g. law, computing, research and development).
How have working hours changed since 2001?
Since 1988 working hours have been regulated by law. The maximum working week has been set at 48 hours. Every six hours workers are entitled to a 20-minute break. Night workers can work for a maximum of 8 hours. THe minimum paid holiday time is 28 days per year.
In 2011, the average number of hours worked by a full-time worker in the UK was 42.7. This is one of the highest figures in the EU; only Austria and Greece work for longer.
Between 2001 and 2011:
- the number of hours worked decreased from an average of 34.7 in 2001 to 33.1 in 2014.
- the number of hours worked decreased slightly more for men than it did for women; falling from 46 hours to 44 hours for men in full-time jobs whereas for women it fell from 41 to 40 hours. In 2001, 40% of fathers worked 48 hours or more a week whereas by 2011 this had decreased to 31%. Fathers are also working less at weekends and in the evenings, 67% worked in the evenings in 2001 but by 2011 this had fallen to 50%. In 2011 mothers with a family were more likely to have a full-time job than in 2001 and only one in five families have a father who is the sole earner.
- the number of people doing part-time jobs and zero-hours contracts (where there’s no guaranted of any hours of work each week) have increased.
- the number of families with both parents in full-time work has increased from 26% to 29% as the government has increased financial support for low-income working parents.