As the 2010s draw to a close, commentators across Britain will be celebrating the high and low moments of the decade. What better way could there be to do that than by looking at some the best numbers of recent times?
The statistic of the decade competition, organised by the Royal Statistical Society (RSS), looks at numbers that “capture the spirit of some of the biggest issues of the last 10 years”. And the winner of the UK statistic of the decade is … [drum roll] … 0.3%.
That is the estimated average annual increase in UK productivity in the decade or so since the financial crisis, chosen because it represents a sharp contrast to the pre-crisis period of 1997 to 2007, when productivity growth averaged around 2% a year.
In other words, the UK has just had its worst decade for productivity growth since the early 1800s, in the early years of the Industrial Revolution.
The RSS’s executive director, Hetan Shah, said: “Most people won’t have paid attention to a dull-sounding number on productivity, but we think it is probably the most important UK statistic of the last decade.
There’s a strong argument to say that if the UK could lift its productivity, we … would have more money in our pockets and more money for government to spend on public services.”
As the decade has come to an end, however, the drop in productivity has steepened. It fell at the fastest pace for five years in the second quarter of 2019 as concerns mounted over the impact of Brexit uncertainty on the economy.
Two other statistics, 27% and 30.6%, were highly commended.
More than 3.5 million people aged 20 to 34, or 27% of the UK population, are now estimated to live with their parents. The judges felt the figure captured one of the biggest concerns in the UK over the last decade, the huge and ever rising cost of housing.
The 30.6% figure conveys positive change, the percentage of board positions in the UK’s 350 biggest listed companies held by women, up from 9.5% in early 2011. The 30% Club, formed by Helena Morrissey in 2010, has been a key driver of that progress, and has targeted improvements in FTSE100 companies.
Dame Jil Matheson, a former UK national statistician and member of the judging panel, said: “We obviously have a long way to go in achieving gender equality, but the panel liked this statistic as it captures some of the progress that has been made.”
The international statistic of the decade, 8.4m, is far bleaker. The accumulated destruction of the Amazon rainforest over the last 10 years is estimated to have run to 8.4m football pitches.
Like the UK’s productivity, this is another problem that has got worse as the decade nears its close. More than 560 km2 of the world’s largest tropical rainforest were destroyed in November, more than double the area in the same month last year, according to Brazil’s INPE space research agency.
That brings the figure for January to November 2019 to 8,934 square kilometres, 83% more than in the same period in 2018 and an area almost the size of Puerto Rico.
Professor Jennifer Rogers, chair of the judging panel and the RSS’s vice-president for external affairs, said: “Much has been discussed regarding the environment in the last few years, and the judging panel felt this statistic was highly effective in capturing one of the decade’s worst examples of environmental degradation.”