Snapshot: defence spending

The world feels like a dangerous place: arguably it is at its most dangerous since the Second World War.  On Europe’s edge, Russia has invaded Crimea and threatens the rest of Ukraine. Syria, Iraq, the Islamic State and the conflict between Israel and Gaza could each escalate into wider conflict.  Yet figures produced by the Office for National Statistics reveal that over the past decade public spending on defence has fallen in real terms and as a proportion of total public spending.

Public spending on defence rose by 24% from 2001/2 to 2010/11 (from £33.3bn to £41.3 bn).

It fell by 7.0% from 2011/12 to 2012/13 – the largest cut in any government function.  Spending has fallen every year since 2010/11.  Defence’s share of public spending fell from 6.7% in 2001/2 to 5.3% in 2013/14.


Employment in the armed forces has also reduced.  In 2003, there were 223,000 armed forces personnel.  By 2013 this had fallen by 21.5%, to 175,000 personnel.  The armed forces’ share of public sector employment fell in that time from 3.8% to 3.1%.

Spending on defence research and development by government fell by 62% in real terms between 1989 and 2012.  But private sector spending on defence R&D increased by 70% in the same period.  Despite this, government still provided 67% of defence R&D spending in 2012.

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