Public sector borrowing: Five charts that perfectly sum up what's happening to the UK's finances

Emma Haslett
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Public sector borrowing has risen since September last year (Source: Getty)

The Office for National Statistics' (ONS) latest public sector borrowing figures make for uncomfortable reading, particularly if you're in the business of running the country.

Having entered government vowing to eliminate the budget deficit entirely by 2015, figures published this morning by the ONS showed the UK's budget deficit has risen since last year, from £7.65bn last September to £7.74bn this year. Here's how it's done since this time last year - although the figure has fluctuated, the trend hardly suggests the government is succeeding in its goal.

The figure for public sector borrowing was similarly discouraging (while the deficit measures the difference between how much it is spending and how much is coming in, borrowing is the loans it has to take out to fund those expenses): public sector net borrowing was £11.8bn in September, up from £11.7bn in August, and £10.3bn in the same month last year.

That puts the cumulative total for borrowing in the financial year (ie. six months) to September at £58bn, higher than last year's £52.6bn, although rather less than the government borrowed during the same period in 2012.

Traditionally during the run-up to an election, chancellors like to dangle carrots in front of voters. But the Conservatives may have to survive without that strategy when they try to rally votes next year: analyst Samuel Tombs, senior UK economist at Capital Economics, reckons the chancellor "will be forced to acknowledge in December's Autumn Statement that the fiscal consolidation is not going to plan, limiting his scope to announce pre-election sweeteners". That could mean further budget cuts - not the ideal way to entice voters away from the opposition.

What has gone wrong? Much-publicised public spending cuts have created thousands of job cuts - but borrowing remains stubbornly high.

The good news is that some of the rise in borrowing may be associated with tax receipts. Although unemployment has fallen, growth in tax receipts remains low: indeed, receipts have only grown very slightly over the past year, from £44.6bn in September 2013 to £46bn this year.

Part of this may be cosmetic: in spring 2013, when the chancellor abolished the 50p rate of tax, higher-rate taxpayers moved their income from the 2012-13 year to 2013-14, allowing them to pay 5p in the pound less. On top of a £900m one-off payment from Swiss bank accounts, that made receipts look higher in April last year, and lower by comparison this year.

But rising levels of employment should have partially offset that, pushing benefits payments down and increasing tax receipts. As the chart above shows, growth in the amount of tax the government is taking is still low. The concern is that low wage growth has caused this.

We'll leave you with a comparison of net debt as a percentage of GDP a decade ago versus now. George Osborne might like to go and have a little lie-down...

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