George Osborne’s fifth Budget has largely been analysed in terms of the chancellor’s changes to pensions and savings, as well as the usual tweaks to taxes. In my weekly article for Beacon, I have done something different. Using figures from the UK Budget and president Barack Obama’s recently-published US budget, I have compared spending per person on five areas: military spending, healthcare, pensions and benefits (or social security), international work (Department of State in the US, the FCO and DfID in the UK) and interest payments.
As the former head of the armed forces Richard Dannatt argues that Russia’s invasion of Crimea shows why Britain should start recruiting soldiers, rather than shrinking the army, my figures on military spending show that the United States plans spends £1,062 on military spending, per person, in its next fiscal year (2015). That’s nearly twice than the £586 planned by George Osborne for Britain.
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From ‘Osborne v Obama on budgets: how do the US and UK governments spend your taxes?’, Beacon, 21 March 2014
It will come as little surprise that the US, which in 2010 spent as much on defence as the next 17 countries combined, spends more per person than the UK. Specifically, if you compare the budgets of the US Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs to that of the UK Ministry of Defence, nearly twice as much is spent on behalf of each American ($1,766 or £1,062 – for comparisons, the rest of the article will stick to pounds) than the £586 in the Budget for each Briton. And the UK is one of the bigger defence spenders, too.
This category perhaps makes the least sense to look at per person, as defence spending is focused on immensely expensive pieces of equipment. The MoD spent £22.3bn with major suppliers in 2012-13, including £3.12bn with BAE Systems alone, but in military terms this doesn’t go that far; the cost of two new aircraft carriers has reached £6.2bn, with the future of the second one unclear.
There is some international pooling of costs. The UK, like the US, is a member of Nato (at a cost to Britain of £1.62bn in 2012-13) and co-operates increasingly closely with France, Europe’s other comparatively big defence spender. But the US can fight wars on its own, something Britain (along with almost every other country) can no longer do. Whether this represents a good use of taxpayers’ money depends on your politics; but it is a fact that, if you are American, a lot more of your taxes are going on defence that if you are British.
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