Election 2017

Reality Check: Have governments since 2010 borrowed more than Labour ones?

Jeremy Corbyn saying: From a government that has borrowed more than every Labour government in history over the last seven years we really don't need lectures.

The claim: The governments since 2010 have borrowed more than all the Labour governments in history.

Reality Check verdict: That's true in cash terms but not when you take into account the growing economy.

Among the more eye-catching claims of the campaign so far has been Jeremy Corbyn's repeated assertion that the Conservative-led governments since 2010 have borrowed more money than all Labour governments in history.

This can be checked using the Bank of England's handy three centuries of economic data spreadsheet.

The simplest way to examine this claim is to compare the amounts in cash terms, add up the amounts borrowed by all Labour governments and compare the total with the amount borrowed since 2010.

By this calculation, the combined Labour governments borrowed a little more than £500bn over their 33 years while the governments since 2010 have borrowed a bit more than £670bn.

So it's true in cash terms, but is that a fair or useful comparison?

During the first Labour government under Ramsay MacDonald in 1924, a loaf of bread cost less than 2d on average. Also, our economy produces very considerably more today than it did in 1924, which means it is not unreasonable for the government to borrow more.

So a better comparison to make is government borrowing as a proportion of GDP, which is a measure of everything produced in the economy.

By that measure it turns out that all Labour governments borrowed about 70% of GDP while the governments since 2010 borrowed about 40% of GDP, which is a very different picture.

Even that is not necessarily a fair comparison. For example, there was a big fall in debt as a proportion of GDP after 1976, despite Jim Callaghan's government going to the International Monetary Fund for a big loan.

That happened because the following years of very high inflation reduced the value of the government's debts.


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