How Britain has changed since 1997

Prospect Magazine takes a look at how Britain has changed by the numbers from 1997 to present:

Richer, fatter, living longer, more indebted, drunker, better connected, politically disillusioned: there’s no metric that can describe whether we are happier or living better lives after 13 years of Labour. But there are plenty to show how we have changed during a period of fulsome spending, borrowing and technological transformation.

The four pages of graphics are well-organized with just the right balance of color and iconography, to keep the reader engaged without going oatmeal on the numbers.


  • How can you be promoting this as good data presentation? The concentric circles in the upper left corner are completely out of proportion to the numbers ostensibly represented, as are the non-concentric circles on the lower right. In fact, in the two circle charts at the bottom, a ratio of 44:110 is represented with what appears to be basically the same size circles as 738:8083. Neither represent the proportion correctly, and they most certainly shouldn’t be the same as each other!

    • Not perfect, but still good. To be fair, the circles for obesity and pay do not need to be on the same scale. They’re different units, so it doesn’t matter in this case.

      • I guess we disagree. In the upper left circle chart, the larger one looks to be about four to six times as large (by area) as the smaller one. But the ratio in the data is 110.5:44.5, or about 2.5:1. So the graphical presentation distorts the data considerably, making the ratio seem twice as big as it really is. Similar on the bottom two circle charts – the areas of the circles do not appear to represent the actual ratios in the data faithfully. The different scales are unproblematic from that perspective.

      • No. The circle sizes are wrong. I agree with that. But it’s four full pages of graphics, and there’s much more good than there is bad.

    • Andre Reis July 7, 2010 at 10:07 am

      That was the first thing I noticed as well. I thought ‘wow Britain is spending 4-6 times more in health’, until I saw the numbers. It’s even worse than your usual ‘double the radius’ fallacy.

  • Yannis A. July 7, 2010 at 9:37 am

    Hi, I’d just like to say that some results seem irrelevant in the research. I believe the amount of copies sold in 1997 and 2009 has nothing to do with the New Labour years, as that depends almost entirely on the quality of music released in the year. It was Britpop’s and Blur’s heyday back then, and that might be a factor.

    Newspapers? Those that could not step up their game simply could not survive. It’s as simple as that.

    Also, I don’t like the comparison in public attitudes to public spending and taxation… as the markets were completely collapsing later on in the year. Unlike the US, dabbling in the stock market is for the rare, high-born few in England. Most dabble in the housing market… or at least they did up to the beginning of the recession. There was also a sharp decrease in pubs due to the Midlands and Cumbria floodings that destroyed many historic pubs (most pubs in England are historic anyway) as well as the recession affecting pubs a lot to the point that 400 were closing per week in the ‘opening days’ of the recession.

    Many local post offices (at least here in Norfolk) have been bought by franchises of small supermarkets like the Co-operative due to lack of business.

    Smoking has obviously decreased considerably due to the smoking ban (implemented in 2006) in public places.

    Education, education, education is what Tony Blair said in his (second?) election to being the Prime Minister… and it seems to have paid off. Better than the old Tories in every way, but the new ones, reformed under (posh toff!) David Cameron are not too bad, but I can’t help but feel they ignore the poorest too much, like all (semi-)capitalist governments… the future is not the brightest.

  • And that huge chair in the middle is way too big for that tiny fat guy.

  • Nathan,
    You’ve done a great job. The visualization works well to portray a lot of data and trends.Spending some time to absorb the data is worth it to see what the charts are saying.
    Well done! And really appreciate your visualization news and information.
    Best regards,


  • Gerard St. Croix July 8, 2010 at 3:00 am

    Of course, the most important thing about this visualization is what it doesn’t show. Kudos to the designers for filling it with relative trivia and carefully ignoring the elephant in the room.

  • I think the public spending stats are wrong – i’ll need to check but it doesn’t look like they converted them to real terms.

    The inference of the introduction is a little dodgy. It suggests all of the below is the result of government policy. Much of it isn’t.

    See here for Labour’s spending record by term:

    • Yep, just checked and they didn’t convert the numbers for ‘Public Spending, per cent of GDP’ into real terms. That’s got to make you question the rest of the data.