Is the government increasing defence spending by £75 billion?

25 April 2024
What was claimed

The UK will increase defence spending by £75 billion between now and 2030.

Our verdict

This figure is misleading, because it assumes spending would otherwise have been frozen in cash terms, and fallen as a percentage of GDP, over the next six years. If you assume spending would otherwise have been maintained as a percentage of GDP, the increase by 2030 is expected to be around £20 billion.

Earlier this week the Prime Minister announced that the UK is set to increase its defence spending to 2.5% of GDP over the next six years. 

The government’s press statement claimed this amounts to “an additional £75 billion over six years”. This £75 billion figure was also quoted by ministers, for example by Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden in Parliament and by Chief Secretary to the Treasury Laura Trott on social media. However, it is misleading. 

The government plans to spend £64.1 billion, which currently amounts to 2.32% of GDP, on defence in 2024/25. A series of planned increases will see this rise to 2.5% of GDP, or £87 billion, in 2030/31. 

In cash terms, therefore, the government’s additional spending on defence in 2030/31 will be around £23 billion compared to this year. 

The figure of £75 billion is the sum of all the additional amounts above £64.1 billion spent between now and 2030. As the government’s own documentation states: “Starting today and over the next six years spending will increase steadily and consistently, and we will spend cumulatively an additional £75 billion on defence.”

However, this figure assumes that spending would otherwise have been frozen in cash terms over the next six years, with no increases based on inflation, and that the amount spent would actually have declined as a percentage of GDP. 

We’ve not seen any evidence that this is what the government had planned prior to this week’s announcement. In fact, the government had previously set out its ambition to increase defence spending to 2.5% of GDP, though without giving a time frame

Departmental spending plans haven’t yet been set out beyond 2024/45. But last November a forward-looking analysis from the Office for Budget Responsibility said that while spending envelopes had not yet been allocated, it made the assumption that defence spending was “held flat as a share of GDP, consistent with the Government’s commitment to keep such spending above the NATO minimum of 2 per cent of GDP”. Keeping defence spending flat in cash terms rather than as a share of GDP would likely have resulted in the government failing to meet that NATO commitment

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has criticised the £75 billion figure, with analyst Ben Zaranko describing the announcement as an “unhelpful way to present the figures” and the institute’s director Paul Johnson saying numbers used in describing the increase in defence spending were “impenetrable, misleading and internally inconsistent”.  Mr Zaranko said it would have been better to assume a baseline of spending frozen as a percentage of GDP. This suggests the government’s announced increase would mean an additional £20 billion over the next six years. 

The chancellor Jeremy Hunt appeared to agree with this £20 billion figure in comments reported from his trip this week to Ukraine. The BBC reported: “Mr Hunt confirmed the spending, which will gradually increase over the next six years, would be £20bn more than if spending stayed at its current level of 2.3% of GDP.”A spokesperson for the Treasury told Full Fact: “The £75 billion [increase] is compared to the cash amount that we are spending on defence, as of now over the six years… 

“That is how we have previously compared an increase in defence spending. We did the same thing at the Spending Review 2020. There are many different ways stats are used and compared. There are obviously other representations, but this is an accurate representation of that change over the six years.”

A 2022 House of Commons Library briefing on defence expenditure, which has since been archived, noted the government had previously used a similar method of calculation and that, while the resulting figures were not factually wrong, “this is not how increases and decreases in spending are usually discussed”. We fact checked a related claim in 2022. 

Statistics on their own have limitations. The way they are presented is a crucial part of how they are interpreted and understood by the public. If data is presented without context or caveats, it can give an incomplete or misleading picture. 

Ministers and their government departments must use statistics and data more transparently and responsibly, and quickly rectify misleading claims when they occur.

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