Great Britain in Brief
The United Kingdom is situated on the British Isles. The British Isles consist of two large islands, Great Britain and Ireland, and a great number of small islands. Their total area is over 244,000 sq. km.
The British Isles are separated from the European continent by the North Sea and the English Channel. The western coast of Great Britain is washed by the Atlantic Ocean and the Irish Sea.
Northern Ireland occupies one third of the island of Ireland. It borders on the Irish Republic in the south.
The island of Great Britain consists of three main parts: England (the southern and middle part of the island), Wales (a mountainous peninsula in the west) and Scotland (the northern part of the island).
There are no high mountains in Great Britain. In the north the Cheviots (the Cheviot Hills) separate England from Scotland, the Pennines stretch down North England almost along its middle, the Cambrian mountains occupy the greater part of Wales and the Highlands of Scotland are the tallest of the British mountains. Ben Nevis, the tallest peak of the Highlands, is only 1,343 m high.
There is very little flat country except in the region known as East Anglia.
Most of the rivers flow into the North Sea. The Thames is the deepest and the longest of the British rivers, it is over 300 km long. Some of the British greatest ports are situated in the estuaries of the Thames, Mersey, Tyne, Clyde and Bristol Avon.
Great Britain is not very rich in mineral resources, it has some deposits of coal, and iron ore and vast deposits of oil and gas that were discovered in the North Sea.
The warm currents in the Atlantic Ocean influence the climate of Great Britain.
Britain forms the greater part of the British Isles, which lie off the northwest coast of mainland Europe. Its weather is changeable, but there are few extremes of temperature. Britain is a major world producer of oil, natural gas and coal. Since 1980 it has been self-sufficient in energy in net terms.
With 57 million people Britain ranks sixteenth in the world in terms of population. England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, its four component lands, have separate traditions and cultures. Over the centuries immigrants and political refugees from Europe have added their own customs to these. More recently people from the Caribbean and the South Asian subcontinent, Cypriots, Chinese and others have contributed to the multiracial nature of British society.
Britain has for centuries lived by its people’s enterprise and the advancement of its overseas trade. It was the world’s first industrialised country. While manufacturing continues to play a vital role, recent decades have generally seen a faster growth in the services sector. Government policies seek to stimulate enterprise and encourage wealth creation and competition.
The national infrastructure benefits from a network of motorways, fast intercity rail services and the recent expansion of airports. Revitalisation of inner cities and housing estates includes initiatives to encourage enterprise, employment and education. Reforms are in train to shape Britain’s wide-ranging social welfare system for the 1990s.
On an index based on life span, literacy and basic purchasing power a United Nations report on quality of life ranked Britain’s among the Highest in the world.
Britain’s democratic system of government is long established and well tried, and has provided remarkable political stability. Britain’s overseas relations, including membership of the European Community and its links with Commonwealth countries, enable it to play a central role in promoting international co-operation. It supports such co-operation on environmental protection and is active in the scientific assessment of climate change. Its law on pollution control is being developed with other Community members and with the United Nations and its agencies.
Government and Administration
System of Government
Britain is a parliamentary democracy with a constitutional monarch — Queen Elizabeth II — as head of State.
Political stability owes much to the monarchy. Its continuity has been interrupted only once (the republic of 1649—1660) in over a thousand years. The Queen is impartial and acts on the advice of her ministers.
Parliament comprises the House of Commons, the House of Lords and the Queen in her constitutional role. The Commons has 650 elected Members of Parliament (MPs), each representing a local constituency. The Lords is made up of hereditary and life peers and peeresses, and the two archbishops and 24 most senior bishops of the established Church of England. The centre of parliamentary power is the House of Commons. Limitations on the power of the Lords — it rarely uses its power to delay passage of a law — are based on the principle that the House as a revising chamber should complement the Commons and not rival it. The proceedings of both houses of Parliament are broadcast on television and radio, sometimes live or more usually in recorded and edited form. Once passed through both Houses, legislation receives the Royal Assent.
General elections to choose MPs must be held at least every five years. Voting, which is not compulsory, is by secret ballot and is from the age of 18. The candidate polling the largest number of votes in a constituency is elected. In the election of June 1987, when 75 percent of the electorate voted, the Conservative Party gained an overall majority of 101 (Conservative 375 seats, Labour 229, Liberal 17, Social Democratic 5 and others 24). In 1988 the Liberal and Social Democratic parties merged and are now Liberal Democrats.
The Government is formed by the party with majority support in the Commons. The Queen appoints its leader as Prime Minister. As head of the Government the Prime Minister appoints ministers, of whom about 20 are in the Cabinet — the senior group which takes major policy decisions. Ministers are collectively responsible for government decisions and individually responsible for their own departments. The second largest party forms the official Opposition, with its own leader and «shadow cabinet». The Opposition has a duty to criticise government policies and to present an alternative programme.
Policies are carried out by government departments staffed by politically neutral civil servants. They serve the government of the day regardless of its political complexion.
Elected local authorities provide housing, education, personal social services, police and fire brigades. Their expenditure is met partly by central government grants and partly by a community charge, generally payable by everyone in Great Britain over 18. This is to be replaced by a local tax, assessed on the number of adults in, and the value of, a property. Capital expenditure is financed mainly by borrowing.
Justice and the Law
Much legislation applies throughout Britain. England and Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, however, have their own legal systems, with differences in law and practice. The proceeds from serious crime such as drug trafficking, robbery and fraud may be confiscated by the courts.
Law enforcement is carried out by 52 locally based police forces. Police officers are normally unarmed and there are strict limits to police powers.
In British criminal trials the accused is presumed innocent until proved guilty. The accused is legally represented. Most cases are tried before lay justices silting without a jury. The more serious cases are tried in the higher courts before a jury of 12 (15 in Scotland). Cases involving children (ten to 17 years) are held in juvenile courts or, in Scotland, at informal children’s hearings.
The sentence passed on a guilty offender is subject to certain limits laid down by Parliament for various offences. There is a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment for murder.
Judges are independent and, except for lay justices, are appointed from practising lawyers. Barristers or advocates advise on legal problems and present cases in the lay justices’ and jury courts. Solicitors undertake legal business for clients and appear in the lay justices’ courts.
External Affairs and Defence
Britain has diplomatic relations with 166 states, retains responsibility for 14 dependent territories, provides development assistance to over 120 countries, and is a member of some 120 international organisations. Britain is one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.
The European Community
Britain is a committed member of the European Community, an association of 12 democratic states. The Community defines its aims as the harmonious development of economic activities; a continuous, balanced economic expansion; and an accelerated rise in standards of living. These objectives should be met by the creation of a common internal market, the gradual approximation of member states’ economic policies, and a framework of common law.
The Community has abolished internal tariffs, established a common customs tariff and set a goal of the creation, by the end of 1992, of an internal market in which free movement of goods, services, persons and capital is ensured in accordance with the Treaty of Rome. Britain regards completion of the internal market as essential if Europe is to improve its competitiveness in world markets. By mid-1990 Britain had implemented more internal market measures than any other Community member.
The Community now accounts for a fifth of world trade. Half Britain’s trade is with its 11 Community partners.
The Commonwealth is a voluntary association of 50 independent states with a combined population of 1,300 million (nearly a quarter of the world total). It originates in the progressive, largely peaceful, dismantling of the British Empire since 1945. Members share a language and are a cross-section of countries at all stages of social and economic development. The Queen is recognised as head of the Commonwealth, and is head of State in 17 member countries.
Aid and Development
Britain’s aid programme aims to promote sustainable economic and social progress, and the alleviation of poverty, in developing countries. Its budget in 1989 was about £1,790 million. Over 80 per cent of gross bilateral aid went to the poorest countries. Some 75 per cent went to commonwealth countries. Almost £65 million was spent on disaster relief, help for refugees, and emergency food aid.
Multilateral agencies, including the World Bank and the United Nations, are major channels for British aid (21 per cent in 1989). European Community programmes account for a further 17 per cent.
Britain’s defence policy is based on its membership of NATO, which is committed to defend the territories of all member states. Britain spent 4 per cent of gross domestic product on defence in 1989.
Britain gives military aid and training to friendly countries, and has permanent garrisons in some of its dependent territories. It also provides the largest contingent of the UN peace-keeping force in Cyprus.
Economic and Scientific Affairs
Britain has an open economy, in which international trade plays a vital part. About one-quarter of its gross domestic product comes from the export of goods and services, a high share among major economies. Private enterprise accounts for three-quarters of gross domestic product and over two-thirds of total employment. The rate of inflation fell sharply in the early 1980s. It rose again after early 1988, then fell to 9.3 per cent at an annual rate by December 1990. Services now account for 60 per cent of gross domestic product and manufacturing for 25 per cent.
Shedding surplus labour and renewed growth have led to gains in productivity. In 1980 —1989 output per head rose by 23 per cent in the economy as a whole, and by 57 per cent in manufacturing alone.
In December 1989 Britain’s total workforce in employment was a record 27 million. It had increased by 3.5 million since March 1983. Of people working for an employer in 1989, 69 per cent were in manufacturing, 4.7 per cent in construction and 3.4 per cent in the primary sector (agriculture, forestry, fishing, energy and water supply). Self-employment (11.3 per cent of the workforce) increased to 3 j million in 1989, a rise of 70 per cent since June 1979.
As in other industrialised countries, unemployment has been a major problem, but had fallen from its peak of 3.2 million in 1986 to about 1.7 million in August 1990.
The Government and Industry
The keynote of government industrial policy is to encourage enterprise. Its two foundations are open markets and individual initiative. Competition policy seeks to promote market efficiency where this is not achieved solely by market forces. A substantial privatisation programme has encouraged share ownership. It has also involved the privatisation of 29 major businesses, including British Airways, British Gas, British Telecom, and the water supply industry in England and Wales.
There has been notable growth in chemicals and in electrical and instrument engineering. Productivity has also grown sharply in long- established, extensively modernised, industries like metal manufacturing and vehicle building. About 81 per cent of visible exports consist of manufactures or semimanufactures.
In 1988 the largest net output of manufacturing was in electrical and instrument engineering (£12,800 million); food, drink and tobacco (£10,900 million); mechanical engineering (£10,200 million); chemicals and man-made fibres (£9,900 million); and paper, printing and publishing (£9,700 million).
The average manufacturing firm is fairly small. Four-fifths of establishments employ fewer than 20 people. These account for nearly 11 per cent of the manufacturing workforce. Businesses employing more than 500,000 people, just under 1 per cent of all businesses, account for 46 per cent of the workforce.
Steel and Mineral Processing
Britain is the world’s tenth largest steel producer (by volume). Of deliveries of finished steel in 1989, 35 per cent was exported. Substantial gains in productivity have been recorded, to levels higher than those of Britain’s major competitors. In addition to its large output of non-ferrous metals, Britain is also a major producer of specialized alloys used by the aerospace, electronic, petrochemical and other industries.
Britain’s chemicals industry is the third largest in Europe and the fifth largest in the Western world. Nearly half its production is exported. In 1989 it contributed over £13,000 million to the balance of payments. Pharmaceuticals are responsible for nearly half the sector's overseas trade surplus.
Major products include process plant for large-scale industries such as oil refining and nuclear power generation. Britain is the Western world’s largest producer of agricultural tractors, many of which are exported. It is also an important manufacturer of railway and motor vehicles.
The British aerospace industry is the third largest in the world. Its products include civil and military aircraft and satellites. Exports account for nearly 70 per cent of the industry’s turnover. Rolls-Royce is one of the world’s three largest aeroengine manufacturers. British Aerospace has developed its own range of civil aircraft. It is also the largest European producer of communications satellites.
Output in the electrical and instrument engineering sector has risen steadily since 1982. British firms and research organisations continue to pioneer advances in microelectronics.
Textiles and clothing, with just over 10 per cent of manufacturing employment, make a substantial contribution to the British economy. The clothing industry, one of the largest in Europe, meets about two-thirds of domestic demand, and the woollen industry is one of the world’s largest.
Other major manufacturing industries include food and drink, timber and furniture, printing and publishing, paper (British newsprint producers supply 35 per cent of home demand) and board, and rubber. Some 85 per cent of the Scotch whisky production of 114 distilleries is exported. In 1989 the industry’s exports were valued at £1,470 million.
The construction industry, excluding materials, accounts for 65 per cent of gross domestic product, 90 per cent of work being done by private firms. In 1989 the total value of output grew to £46,120 million, of which new work came to £27,330 million. British engineers won contracts in new overseas commissions for projects worth nearly £7,800 million.
Financial and business services, franchising, health and leisure, and computing services (with a turnover in 1989 of more than £3,000 million) have been major growth sectors.
Tourism employs some 1.4 million people, with employment and investment growing and spreading more evenly around Britain’s regions. In 1989, 17.2 million visits from overseas to Britain were recorded.
Gross Domestic Product by Industry and Service in 1989 (%)
Banking, finance, insurance, business services, leasing …………… 19.8
Distribution, hotels and catering, repairs. 14.2
Education and health services................. 9.7
Transport and communications............... 6.9
Public administration, defence and social security ………………. 6.8
Ownership of dwellings........................... 5.8
Energy and water supply......................... 5.2
Agriculture, forestry and fishing............... 1.5
Other services....................................... 6.8
Adjustment for financial services............ -5.8
Britain is the fifth largest trading nation in the world. Exports of goods and services in 1989 were equivalent to over one-quarter of gross domestic product. Over 80 per cent of visible exports are manufactured goods. Machinery accounts for over 28 per cent of the total. Finished manufactures comprise 52 per cent of imports and semimanufactures 27 per cent. The total value of exports in 1989 was some £94,000 million. Imports were valued at some £121,000 million.
About half Britain’s trade is with its European Community partners.
Exports of services and other invisible items amounted to £109,000 million in 1989, the surplus being £4,700 million. Britain’s invisible surplus is the second largest in the world.
Britain has international obligations under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and European Community agreements. These have led to the progressive removal of almost all quantitative import restrictions imposed on economic grounds. Britain maintains few restrictions on its international trade.
Britain’s identified net external assets (second only to those of Japan) came to about £113,000 million at the end of 1989. Direct investment assets held overseas by British residents came to £140,000 million and portfolio investment assets to £221,000 million.
Banking, finance, insurance, business services and leasing account for 14 per cent of the British economy’s total output. London has the world’s largest insurance market, and its banks are responsible for about a fifth of the international bank lending. London is the world’s principal trading centre for commodities, as well as an increasingly important centre for financial futures markets.
The Bank of England oversees the soundness of the financial system as a whole, executes monetary policy, acts as banker to the Government, and provides banking facilities for the banking system. Retail banks provide financial services to individuals and companies, particularly account and loan facilities. They also offer home loans.
Some 126 building societies take deposits from individuals (on which they pay interest) and arrange mortgages for house purchase. They also offer a wide range of banking and insurance services.
The International Stock Exchange is one of the world’s largest markets for government and company securities. Its turnover of equities in 1989 accounted for some 10 per cent of equity trading worldwide. Also in London are various commodity markets, the bullion market, the Baltic Exchange for shipping and agricultural futures, and Lloyd’s for insurance.
For 1990—1991 planned general government receipts amount to £219,000 million. Income tax accounts contributions for 17 per cent, value added tax for 15 per cent, local authority rates and community charge for 11 per cent, corporation tax for 10 per cent and duties on petrol, alcoholic drinks and tobacco for 9 per cent. Among the other sources are National Insurance contributions, capital taxes, oil taxes and royalties, and receipts from interest and dividends.
The main items of general government expenditure in 1990—1991 are social security (26 per cent), health (10 per cent), defence (10 per cent), local government (10 per cent), the environment and transport (6 per cent), and education and science (3 per cent).
The basic rate of income tax — 25 per cent — applies to the fust £20,700 of taxable income. A rate of 40 per cent applies above this level. All taxpayers benefit from a system of tax allowances under which part of their income is tax-free. In addition, there are tax reliefs on such items as mortgage interest paid by house buyers. Corporation tax is payable on company profits.
The main expenditure tax is a value added tax levied on various goods and services. Special duties are also placed on such items as petrol and diesel road fuel, tobacco and alcoholic drinks.
Britain has the largest energy resources in the European Community.
It is the world’s eighth largest oil producer. In 1989 the amount of crude oil extracted from 44 offshore North Sea, and various small onshore, fields was about 1.18 million barrels (252,050 tonnes) a day.
Natural gas from 28 offshore fields accounts for nearly 80 per cent of British Gas’s total supplies.
The coal industry is one of the largest in Western Europe and one of the world’s most technologically advanced. Output was nearly 97 million tonnes in 1989—1990.
Certain parts of the electricity supply industry in Great Britain were being privatised in 1990—1991. Independent generators are to complete on equal terms with the major generators — National Power and PowerGen in England and Wales, and Scottish Power and Scottish Hydro-Electric in Scotland. Nuclear power remains in the public sector.
The Government seeks to reduce pollution caused by the burning of fossil fuels and to contain global warming. It sees nuclear power, which supplies 23 per cent of generated electricity, as still having a strategic role. Sixteen nuclear power stations operate in Great Britain.
The Government also promotes diversity of energy sources. It supports full exploitation of renewable energy technologies and development of their internal and export markets.
Transport and Communications
Most passenger and freight transport goes by road. Private cars and taxis account for some 84 per cent of passenger mileage, buses and coaches for 7 per cent, and rail for 7 per cent. The road network totals 380,400 km (236,400 miles), of which 3,000 km (1,860 miles) are trunk motorways. Despite one of the world’s highest road traffic densities, casualty rates are lower than in most European countries.
British Rail runs over 700 Intercity expresses each weekday. Construction work on the Channel Tunnel, with twin single-track rail tunnels (about SO km long), linking the English and French coasts is in progress. It is one of the largest civil engineering projects in Europe and is being financed by the private sector.
There are about 80 significant ports in Great Britain. Traffic through all ports in 1989 totalled 465 million tonnes.
The civil airline industry is entirely within the private sector. British Airways, one of the world’s latest airlines, carried over 25 million passengers in 1989—1990. Britain’s civil airports handled over 100 million passengers in 1989 and 1.1 million tonnes of freight. Eight airports (handling 70 per cent of passengers and 85 per cent of air cargo traffic) are owned and managed by BAA pie, privatised in 1987.
British Telecom serves some 19.3 million residential and 5.7 million business telephone lines. It includes 110,000 telex connections, 90,000 public payphones, and the highest proportion of optical fibre (1 million km) in its network of any world operator. Mercury Communications is Britain’s competing telecommunications carrier.
The Post Office, pioneer of postal services, handles 58 million letters and parcels each working day. Eighty sorting offices with mechanical handling equipment are in operation.
Science and Technology
Nobel prizes for science have been awarded to 70 British citizens, a greater number than for any other country apart from the United States.
Spending on scientific research and development in 1988 was about £10,300 million, 2.2 per cent of gross domestic product. The Government takes responsibility for funding research in basic science.
The Science and Engineering Research Council supports fundamental research in pure and applied science, including engineering. With the other research councils, it is setting up interdisciplinary research centres.
The Medical Research Council supports major projects in all types of disease, including Alzheimer’s disease and AIDS. The earth’s resources, the oceans and the atmosphere are the concern of the Natural Environment Research Council. The Agricultural and Food Research Council supports work on crops and livestock.
The Government supports university research through the Universities Funding Council. Research on nuclear power is the responsibility of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority, which also offers a contract research service to industry. The Ministry of Defence’s share of government research expenditure has fallen to some 45 per cent. Increasing emphasis is placed on its research funded jointly with industry. «Spin-off» from defence technology to the civil market is encouraged. British firms and academic institutions participate in European Community and other international programmes.
Industry is the second major source of funds for research and development. There have been major advances in the development of optical fibre communications systems. The pharmaceutical industry accounted for 10 per cent of manufacturing industry’s research and development expenditure in Britain in 1989. British firms make 11 of the world’s 50 best-selling medicines. In aerospace British companies play a major role.
Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries
Over three-quarters of Britain’s varied landscape is used for agriculture. Although only 2.2 per cent of the working population are engaged in it, agriculture produced nearly two-thirds of Britain’s food requirements. Its contribution to gross domestic product is 1.4 per cent.
The European Community provides price support (linked to predetermined levels of production) for farmers. Its Common Agricultural Policy accounts for about two-thirds of its budget. Production under the Common Agricultural Policy has increased in recent years, and as a result surpluses have emerged for Common Agricultural Policy reform, to bring supply and demand into better balance. Considerable progress has been made.
The Food Safety Directorate focuses resources on maintaining the safety and quality of Britain’s food supplies.
There are 19 environmentally sensitive areas in Britain. Here farmers receive payments for farming along beneficial lines, intended to preserve the special character of the area.
Woodland covers nearly 2.4 million hectares in Britain: about 13 per cent of Scotland, 12 per cent of Wales, 7.3 per cent of England, and 5.2 per cent of Northern Ireland. British woodlands meet 12 per cent of the country’s consumption of wood and wood products.
The fishing industry, with an inshore fleet of some 7,900 vessels, provides about 61 per cent of the country’s supplies. In 1989 landings of fish (excluding salmon and trout) by British vessels totalled 624,400 tonnes. Fish farming continues to grow: in 1989 it had an estimated turnover of £150 million.
Environmental, Social and Cultural Affairs
Planning and Housing
Britain’s land-use planning system seeks to protect and enhance the environment. It seeks also to reconcile the demands for land from industry, commerce, housing, transport, agriculture and recreation.
Plans are prepared by local government authorities. Most development in their areas must conform to these plans and receive planning permission. Central government approves local authorities’ broad policies.
As part of the «Action for Cities» initiative, the Government is spending more £4,000 million on revitalising the inner cities in 1990— 1991. Local government, business and voluntary organisations also contribute. The Urban Programme provides grant to about 10,000 projects at any one time.
Some 65 per cent of dwellings in Great Britain are owner-occupied, Mortgage loans to home-buyers are available from a number of sources. Tax concessions on interest payments are granted to borrowers. Most public housing in Great Britain is supplied by 460 local housing authorities. The role of non-profit-making housing associations is increasing. Between 1980 and 1988 about 1.6 million home improvement grants were paid in respect of privately owned dwellings. Emphasis is placed on the modernisation and conversion of existing homes, and the retention of existing communities.
Responsibility for pollution control rests with local and central government. Integrated pollution control restricts emissions to air, land and water from the most harmful processes. Recycling of waste will be a duty of local government.
The National Rivers Authority protects inland waters in England and Wales. In Scotland the river purification authorities are responsible for water pollution control.
Total emissions of smoke in the air have fallen by over 85 per cent since 1960. Sulphur dioxide emissions have fallen by about 40 per cent since 1970. Britain has adopted a phased programme of reductions in sulphur dioxide emissions from existing large combustion plants of up to 60 per cent by 2003. It has also agreed to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by up to 30 per cent by 1998. Over 95 per cent of petrol stations in Britain stock unleaded petrol. Strict controls have reduced carbon monoxide, hydrocarbon and nitrogen oxide emissions.
The Government is committed to the elimination of chlorofluor- ocarbons, which damage the ozone layer. They also contribute to the greenhouse effect, which leads to global warming and a rise in sea levels. Britain stresses the need for improvement in understanding the science of climate change.
There are nearly 500,000 protected buildings, and 7,000 conservation areas of architectural or historical interest in Britain. The Government supports the work of the voluntary sector in preserving the national heritage. Green belts are areas where land should be left open and free from urban sprawl. The Government attaches great importance to their protection. National parks cover 9 per cent of the total land area of England and Wales. Some 38 areas of outstanding natural beauty have been designated — 13 per cent of the same land area. Three regional parks and 40 national scenic areas cover 13 per cent of Scotland. Care is taken to control development on parts of the coastline.
All children and young people between the ages of 4- or 5 and 16 must receive full-time education. Just under half of 3-and 4-year-old children receive nursery education. Some 9 million pupils attend Britain’s 35,000 schools. About 93 per cent receive free education from public funds; the rest attend private fee-paying schools. The average pupil-teacher ratio for all schools is about 17 to 1.
Boys and girls are taught together in most schools. In England and Wales non-selective («comprehensive») education caters for children of all abilities. Nearly all pupils in Scotland attend non-selective schools. The secondary education system in Northern Ireland is largely selective.
Recent government measures aim to raise standards, extend parental choice and improve value for money. They provide, among other things, for a compulsory National Curriculum in English and Welsh schools, and for greater responsibilities to be given to schools, polytechnics and colleges. Parallel reforms are being introduced in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Links between business and education are encouraged at all levels.
The principal examination, at about the age of 16, in England, Wales and Northern Ireland is the General Certificate of Secondary Education. A mixture of the Advanced level of the General Certificate of Education and Advanced Supplementary level (giving opportunities for study in a wider range of subjects than hitherto) may be taken at 18. It is the standard for entrance to higher education courses as well as many forms of professional training. There are separate examinations in Scotland.
About two-fifths of all young people get some form of post-school education. About one-sixth enter full-time higher education courses at the 47 universities, 31 polytechnics, 15 Scottish central institutions and other publicly funded colleges. Over 90 per cent of students on full-time higher-education courses receive tuition and maintenance grants from public funds. All undergraduates are eligible, from late 1990, for an interest-free loan.
The Open University, using television and radio broadcasts, correspondence courses and summer schools, provides part-time fee-paid courses for students.
The National Health Service provides largely free medical treatment for everyone normally resident in Britain. Nearly 80 per cent of the cost of the service is met from taxation. Expenditure on the health service (£28,000 million in 1990—1991) has increased substantially in real terms since 1980. The National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990 provides for wide-ranging reform in management and patient care. The Government stresses the need for partnership between the public and private health sectors.
People are encouraged to look after their health. Publicity campaigns underline the dangers of drug, alcohol and solvent misuse; smoking; and AIDS.
Free family planning advice is available to all adults.
A full range of services is provided by the National Health Service hospitals. In England in 1989—1990 the number of in-patient cases treated reached a record 6.6 million. In 1986 the Government launched a drive to reduce hospital waiting lists. By 1990 it had invested £109 million in projects, such as mobile operating theatres, to improve waiting times. The national blood transfusion service collects over 2 million donations a year from voluntary unpaid donors.
There are 78,500 beds in the independent health care sector.
Personal Social Services
Local authority assistance for elderly and disabled people includes domestic help, night attendance, day centres, delivery of cooked meals and subsidised travel. Residential care is provided for those unable to look after themselves.
Local authorities promote child welfare and can help families in difficulty. The Children Act 1989 focuses on better care for children in distress and strengthens the powers of the courts to protect them.
The social security system aims to provide efficient financial help for people in need. It accounts for over a quarter (£55,300 million) of all public expenditure. There is a basic state pension, with an additional eamings-related pension. Personal and occupational pension schemes are encouraged.
Income-related benefits are targeted at areas of greatest need. Family credit, for example, is for working families on modest incomes. Income support is for those without work and with low financial resources.
Many benefits are payable in return for contributions paid by employees, the self-employed, employers and the Government to the National Insurance scheme. This covers retirement, sickness, invalidity, unemployment and other circumstances. The Government finances a number of non-contributory benefits, including child benefit and benefits for disabled people.
The Government sets the arts budget for a three-year period so that arts bodies can plan ahead and diversify their sources of funding. It is spending £494 million in 1990—1991. Over a third is channelled through the Arts Council of Great Britain for the performing and visual arts. The Government encourages arts bodies to seek funds from the private sector.
The British Council furthers knowledge of British culture and the English language overseas. It initiates or supports tours by British companies and artists.
London is a major international centre for theatre, opera and dance. There are many important companies and theatres outside the capital. The Royal National Theatre stages classical and modem plays. The Royal Shakespeare Company performs both at Stratford-upon- Avon, Shakespeare’s birthplace, and in London. The Royal Opera, Covent Garden, and the English National Opera are the main London opera companies. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own.
British pop musicians and groups — some of the most popular being George Michael, Phil Collins, «Wet Wet Wet» and the «Pet Shop Boys» — have world-wide appeal and have set new trends.
Some 650 professional arts festivals take place each year. The Edinburgh International Festival is the largest of its kind in the world.
British films, actors and the creative and technical services which support them are acclaimed at international film festivals. The industry also produces films for television.
About 2,500 museums and art galleries include the major national museums, with world-famous artistic, archaeological, scientific and historical collections. The Queen’s Gallery in Buckingham Palace shows pictures from the royal collection. Many of Britain’s great private houses (some open to the public), of prime architectural interest, also contain art treasures.
A network of free public, and other institutional and private, libraries helps to maintain the vast wealth of English literature and culture. The British Library, Britain’s national library, is one of the world’s three largest.
Press and Broadcasting
More daily newspapers, national and regional, are sold per person in Britain than in most other developed countries. National newspapers have a total circulation of 15.8 million on Sundays. There are about 135 daily and Sunday newspapers, 2,000 weekly papers and some 7,000 periodical publications.
The press is free to comment on matters of public interest, subject to law (including that of libel). There is no state control or censorship. A government-appointed committee has recommended measures for more effective press self-regulation and prevention of intrusion into privacy. Newspapers are almost always financially independent of any political party.
Television and radio, a public service accountable to the people through Parliament, are the responsibility of the BBC, the Independent Television Commission (1TC) and the Radio Authority. Programmes must display a proper balance and wide range of subject matter, and accuracy. They must not offend against good taste.
Under the Broadcasting Act of 1990 a new independent national television service and up to three new national commercial radio stations are to be established. There are opportunities to launch hundreds of private local and community radio stations. Local operators may provide national and local television channels by cable or microwave.
The BBC operates two national television channels and five national and 37 local radio stations. Its overseas service — BBC World Service — transmits radio broadcasts in English and 35 other languages. Its domestic services are financed mainly from the sale of annual television licences, and the World Service from a government grant. They have complete editorial independence.
Channel 3 television programmes are produced and broadcast by 15 independent regional companies. Channel 4 is a complementary independent television channel. Both services draw their income from advertising.
British-based satellite television channels provide programmes to cable operators in Britain and, in most cases, throughout Europe. Direct broadcasting by satellite (DBS) is available all over Britain. British Sky Broadcasting controls nine DBS channels. Cable services have expanded in recent years.
Sport and Recreation
Interest in sports and recreations, such as basketball, darts, skiing, athletics and snooker, has increased, thanks partly to extensive coverage on television. More people participate in sport, mainly because of the increase in leisure time and facilities, greater mobility and improvements in living standards. It is estimated that 25 million people over the age of 13 regularly take part in sport or exercise. Walking, including rambling and hiking, is followed in popularity by swimming, football, golf, keep fit and yoga, athletics, angling, squash and badminton.
Britain has pioneered facilities for sports for disabled people. Disabled athletes are encouraged to participate either in direct competition with ablebodied athletes or in parallel events.
Wimbledon, one of the four grand slam tennis tournaments, is the world’s premier grass court tournament. The British Open Golf championship attracts enormous interest. In horse-racing there are five classic flat races — the Derby, the Oaks, the Two Thousand Guineas, the One Thousand Guineas and the St. Leger. One of the world’s principal sailing events is the regatta at Cowes in the Isle of Wight. Rowing events include the Oxford and Cambridge University boat race and Henley regatta, both on the Thames.
In 1990 England were World Cup soccer semi-finalists. The Government has worked closely with the football authorities and the government of other European countries to combat spectator violence. Legislation severely restricts access to alcohol at matches. The National Football Intelligence Unit, set up in 1989, co-ordinates police information about football hooligans and strengthens liaison with overseas police forces. The use of closed-circuit television on all Football League grounds has helped the police to identify lawbreakers.
(from "Britain in Brief, ’’prepared for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office by Reference Services, Central Office of Information, January 1991)