Ransom thatCH – The Iron ladystats special


All metals rust, even Iron

Its the morning of April 8th 2013; an 87 year old woman has passed away quietly in her sleep following complications from a stroke. Raised a strict Methodist, the Lincolnshire born daughter of a grocer had spent much of her adult life polarizing opinion and the days that follow her death will see little to change that. Celebrations and mourning will break out as people take to the streets in displays of emotion normally reserved for a return to peacetime after war. Newspaper headlines will condemn and praise her in equal measure, whilst the worlds social media erupts in a barrage of opinion, rarely stopping to take the time to remember the facts, let alone reference them. Those not fast enough to react – or not old enough to know better will offer a resounding shrug as some ask, Margret who? Before being set upon by those with an itchy twitter finger in some sort of social media martial law.

With debate raging about Margaret Thatchers legacy and the lasting impact of her Conservative government, its worth taking a minute to look at what the facts and figures have to say. It would be naive to assume economic data can tell us everything about her 11 years in power – and the continued impact they still have – but they can at least provide a solid background to the myriad of opinions flying around at present.

Let’s start with Inflation, which by the mid 1970’s was running at the alarming rate of over 25% – although it was only 10.3% in 1979, the year Thatcher entered office. After only a year in power it had returned to a whopping 21.9 per cent but sharply dropped to 2.4 per cent by mid 1986. The figures from 1990 – the year she left office – show inflation at 10.9%, overall a rise of 0.6% during her time in power. To get to such a low level, indirect taxes had been increased with VAT rising from 8% to 15% and interest rates at a high of 17%.

So how does that measure up to unemployment rates, unemployment rose from 5.3 per cent in 1979 to a record high of 12 per cent in 1984 – hitting  hardest in Northern Ireland, where one in five were out of work in the early 1980s, along with the industrial areas of northern England and Scotland. It would later fall to 7.5 per cent in 1990 – still a relative increase of 2.2% over her 11 years in power. It’s also worth noting that unemployment was on the rise when she left, returning to 10.8 per cent in January 1993 under The Conservative government.

But what was the overall picture for the job market during this period. Surprisingly a net of 1.6 million jobs were created under the Iron lady’s rule with the services sector expanding at a devastating rate. I say devastating because the manufacturing industry suffered badly losing 1.9 million jobs, while the services sector grew by a massive 3.6 million – essentially turning us into a nation of bankers. GDP rose by 29.4 per cent an average of 0.6 per cent growth per quarter and so did government spending by 17.6 per cent. Spending was 45.1 per cent of GDP in 1979 dropping to 39.4 per cent by the time she left in 1990.

The question however remains, was anyone actually better off during Thatchers time in power? Well the short answer is yes and no. Yes if you happened to be wealthy already and no if you were on the poorer end of the scale. When Thatcher came into office in 1979 the top 1% of Britons were earning about 6% of total UK income. By 1990 they were earning 10%, according to figures from the OECD.  

Alongside this Inequality rose dramatically. The Gini coefficient (used to measure inequality) went from 0.25 in 1979 to 0.34 in 1990. That’s an increase in inequality of 0.9% in 11 years. Not surprising given her stance on homosexuality and section 28 – the infamous clause passed during her time in office outlawing local education authorities from promoting the “acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship” – the Women’s Liberation Movement – she famously only elected one Woman to the cabinet in 11 years in office – or society as a whole. 

So those are some of the cold, hard facts. I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions, but however you see Margaret Thatchers legacy it’s clear that the impact of her policies will continue to haunt us for many years to come. 

Thanks to the Office for National Statistics, The Spectator and the OECD for much of the data featured in this article.

Ian Pither