UK general election 2024: Key issues by the numbers

Economic stagnation, a crumbling healthcare system, a housing crisis and concerns about immigration are some of the biggest issues on the ballot.

People across the United Kingdom are going to the polls today at a time when the country is facing significant challenges, from the state of healthcare to the cost of living.

The incumbent Conservative Party, led by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, is projected to lose, paving the way for the country’s first Labour government in 14 years.

According to Ipsos, a multinational market research and consulting firm, the top five issues respondents identified are: healthcare and the National Health Service (NHS) (41 percent), the economy (33 percent), immigration (30 percent), inflation (29 percent) and housing (17 percent).

1. Healthcare: 7.6 million on NHS waiting list

Healthcare ranks as the foremost issue confronting the UK today, with four in 10 respondents rating it as one of the most important, according to Ipsos.

Both the Conservatives, informally known as the Tories, and Labour have said that reducing wait times in the country’s publicly-funded NHS is one of their key priorities.

The official number of people on waiting lists for treatment on the NHS stood at 7.6 million in April this year – only slightly down from last September’s record high of 7.8 million. That is a threefold increase since 2010.

Of the 7.6 million cases, more than 302,500 involved waits longer than 52 weeks – or one year. About 50,400 cases were waiting for more than 65 weeks (one year and three months), and nearly 5,000 involved waits of more than 78 weeks (one year and six months).

The median waiting time was 13.9 weeks, up from 5.2 weeks in March 2010.

Meanwhile, the proportion of people waiting more than four hours to see a doctor at accident and emergency departments of hospitals in the UK – a key indicator used to measure the NHS – has risen steadily over the 14 years that the Tories have been in power.

At the start of 2011, about 6 percent of patients waited for more than four hours. Today, that number stands at about 45 percent.

Much of the blowout in waiting times has been blamed on chronic underinvestment stemming from years of austerity implemented in the wake of the 2007-08 global financial crisis.

Though NHS funding has risen every year since 2010, the rate of the increase has slowed substantially. While spending increased by about 6 percent every year under Labour when adjusted for inflation, it has risen by only about 2 percent under the Conservatives, according to an analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS).

2. Economy: Worst income growth for generations

The past 15 years have seen the worst income growth in the UK for generations, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS).

“It has been slow growth for essentially everyone – rich and poor, old and young. This means that even while income inequality has been stable, progress on reducing absolute poverty has been painfully slow,” Tom Waters, an associate director of the IFS, said in late May.

The country’s gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, a measure of economic prosperity and standard of living, grew by just 4.3 percent from 2007 to 2023, compared with 46 percent growth over the previous 16 years, according to research released earlier this month by the Resolution Foundation think tank.

That is the lowest growth rate since 1826.

3. Crackdown on immigration

Long-term net migration, which measures the number of people moving to the UK minus those leaving, has reached record levels over the past few years.

By the end of 2023, long-term net migration to the UK was approximately 685,000 people, nearly three times as high as a decade ago.

Of those people, Indian nationals topped the list at 250,000 arriving in the UK to stay long-term. This was followed by Nigerians (141,000), Chinese (90,000), Pakistanis (83,000) and Zimbabweans (36,000).

The Conservatives have repeatedly pledged to crack down on the number of people arriving through irregular means, such as those who cross the English Channel from France on small boats – many of whom are asylum seekers.

Sunak’s government has backed a highly controversial plan to deport undocumented people to Rwanda to have their asylum claims processed there. But the deal has been blocked several times by courts that ruled the plan unlawful.

In the two years since it was announced, no flights have taken off to Rwanda. Sunak says the first flight will leave on July 24 at the earliest, assuming he wins the election.

The Labour Party says if it wins, the Rwanda plan will be scrapped. At the same time, it has promised to cut down net migration figures without elaborating on how it will do so.

4. Rising cost of living

The cost of living across the UK has sharply increased over the past few years with inflation levels reaching a 41-year high of 11.1 percent in October 2022, largely driven by COVID-related supply chain issues and the war in Ukraine.

Recent data shows the annual inflation rate was down to 2 percent in May 2024, from 2.3 percent the month before, the lowest rate in almost three years.

Despite inflation tracking down to the Bank of England’s target rate, the affordability of goods and services for households is still affecting millions across the UK as salaries stagnate.

5. Unaffordable house prices

For prospective homeowners, buying a house has become significantly less affordable, with the average price last year reaching 8.3 times earnings, compared with 6.8 times earnings in 2010.

Homeownership rates in the UK for those aged 45 to 59 and 35 to 44 dropped 7.1 percentage points and 6.5 percentage points since 2010, respectively, although ownership rose slightly among those aged 25 to 34.

Rising unaffordability has been driven by a shortage of dwellings, which economists have blamed on an inflexible and unpredictable planning system.

England’s 434 homes per thousand inhabitants places it below the OECD average of 487, and far behind countries such as France and Italy with 590 and 587, respectively.

According to the Local Government Association, the number of temporary accommodations due to the shortage of social housing rose by 89 percent in the 10 years until March 2023.

The growing pressure on local councils to support the public intensified through austerity measures intended to reduce the government’s budget deficit, which were implemented when a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition came to power in 2010.

Private rental costs have continued to climb, reaching an estimated 6.2 percent in January 2024. This remains the largest annual percentage change since this UK data series began in January 2016.

Some of the other issues

Some of the other issues people in the UK find pressing are declining government spending on education, increased foreign spending on defence, the impact of inflation on poverty levels, a lack of faith in government and the level of crime in some areas.

In education, spending per pupil has flatlined according to the IFS, with their 2023 report on education stating that in 2022–23, in real terms, total public spending on education in the UK saw an 8 percent or a 10-billion-pound ($12.7bn) fall since 2010–11.

Defence and foreign affairs, including funding for Ukraine to help it fend off Russia’s invasion and the war in Gaza, are also significant issues.

So far, the UK has pledged 12.5 billion pounds ($15.9bn), including 7.6 billion pounds ($9.6bn) in military assistance, to Ukraine and is one of the leading donors to Kyiv alongside the United States and Germany.

When it comes to Israel’s ongoing war on Gaza, a YouGov poll commissioned by Medical Aid for Palestinians and the Council for Arab-British Understanding, in May, found that more than 70 percent of people in the UK want an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

Source: Al Jazeera