5 Graphs that sum up the Cameron-Osborne years

Ben Wray

Common Weal Policy bring together five key graphs which reveal the depths of failure of the Cameron-Osborne years, as they come to an ignominious end

IT’S the end of an era, a very bad one, which has ended in disgrace. The resignation of David Cameron as Prime Minister and, hours later, the disposing of Chancellor George Osborne from government brings to a close the Cameron-Osborne years: 74 miserable months that will surely be remembered by historians as one of the biggest failures in the long history of Westminster government.

While Brexit may be the great symbol of the disastrous Cameron-Osborne era, it won’t be the only one. The pair of Bullingdon Boys oversaw the longest decline in real wages on record and the weakest economic recovery on record. History makers – for all the wrong reasons. 

Common Weal Policy has brought together five key graphs which expose the brutal reality of the Cameron-Osborne years.


Both Osborne and Cameron like to talk up their record on employment (of which more below), what they are less inclined to highlight is their record on wages: the worst of any UK Government since records began. In recent years they have attempted to cover for this with the National Living Wage, but that doesn’t nearly off-set the fall in living standards suffered by most Britons from the pressure on wage packets, that for the vast majority of those years has ran well below inflation and prices. 

Economic ‘Recovery’

This graph from the TUC is extremely revealing about the real track record of the outgoing Chancellor: one of complete failure, something which is too often ignored by the Westminster commentariat. In the year after the crash the UK recovered at the same speed as in 1981, but while the likes of the United States began to recover quickly from then on, Britain stalled. Why? Because of Osborne’s mad-cap austerity measures, sucking demand out of the economy at the time when it was most needed. Osborne cooled austerity by half once he realised his plan was in disarray, but by that point it was too late, and the UK never recovered, scraping along at a growth rate that barely had a pulse, while most in the UK did not feel any improvement at all – re-inflating the housing bubble that was part of the problem in the first place was the Chancellor’s only ‘success’.

The Deficit

The deficit – the difference between the amount the government spends and the amount it accrues in tax revenue – was always the Chancellor’s raison d'etre. Osborne promised to eradicate the deficit by 2015 – he failed miserably. He then promised to eradicate it by 2019/20 and introduce a ‘budget surplus law’ enforcing goverment’s to bring in more than they spend each year – after Brexit he admitted defeat, and scrapped the law. In fact, all of Osborne’s three fiscal rules which the Cameron government stood on in winning its second term have been broken. Osborne’s repeated failure to meet his own targets was evidence of an ideology that failed – he believed slashing the public-sector would inspire growth in the private-sector, which would bring in increased tax revenue and thus the deficit would come down. As it turned out, tax revenue fell as wages fell and corporations dodged. In turn, reduced wages and falling public-sector employment meant more need for welfare support. As other governments as well as the IMF and OECD had long given up on the economically irrational pursuit of balanced budgets (especially at a time when borrowing was historically cheap) and implored Osborne to do like wise, he kept following his failed ideology almost to the end. 


This graphic shows the rise in Trussell Trust foodbank usage over the Cameron-Osborne years: rising from 61,4468 in Cameron’s first year in office to 1,109,309 in his last full year. Foodbank staff cite a rise in recent years of employed people using foodbanks, as well as a spike from those hit by Iain-Duncan Smith’s benefit sanctions, which leave many destitute. Foodbank Britain is a good way of describing the reality of poverty in the UK today. 


This graph from the TUC is there ‘Involuntary Work Index’: how many people in the UK are in part-time and temporary work but want to be in full-time work. The graph shows that this number has risen from 700,000 since 2008, the vast majority of that rise coming in the Cameron-Osborne years. Cameron a nd Osborne have both boasted of their ‘jobs recovery’ but the fact is that full-time, well paid jobs have been replaced by part-time or temporary poorly paid work. One major symbol of the rise of insecurity in the British workforce has been zero-hour contracts, which has tripled since the Tories came to power in 2010. An increasing number of people turning to self-employment, which often involves little more than doing odd jobs, has also masked the reality of unemployment and under-employment in the UK. As workers are undermined, executive pay has surged to 150 times that of the average pay of their employees.