Who spends the most on beer?

And other questions, answered by the US Bureau of Labour Statistics.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics has released March's edition of its Focus on Prices and Spending, which contains a fascinating cross national comparison of spending habits between four countries: the US, UK, Canada and Japan.

Some conclusions are precisely what you would expect. The average American spends 6.9 per cent of their total out-of-pocket expenditure on healthcare, over four times the average Brit, who spends 1.4 per cent. Canada and Japan lie in the middle, with 4.1 and 4.3 per cent respectively.

The Bureau does point out that not all of this discrepancy is down to wonderful NHS versus evil private providers:

The health care share for the United States may be higher because in Canada, the United Kingdom, and Japan medical costs are paid indirectly through nationalized health care options, and medical costs paid indirectly are not included in out-of-pocket health care expenditures.

Although they fail to mention that the US does also have a considerable amount of medical costs paid indirectly, in the form of Medicare, Medicaid, and tax deductions on employer purchased insurance. In fact, the US's public expenditure is almost as high as the UK's.

Another unsurprising finding is amount spent on booze. Guess who is number one? That's right; binge Britain.

Expenditure on alcohol is 4.8 per cent in the UK, compared to 1.8 per cent in the US, 1.6 per cent in Japan, and 3.1 per cent in Canada. Crucially, however, these figures measure expenditure, not consumption. VAT in the UK is higher than any state sales tax, and we also have particularly high alcohol duty on top of that, which may mean that alcohol consumption isn't that much higher here than Canada. It does seem like an inescapable conclusion that we drink more than the US, though.

For other categories, the findings are more counter intuitive. On housing, the Bureau writes:

The United States had the highest housing expenditure share, 29.3 percent of total expenditures in 2009. The United Kingdom and Canada followed, with 24.1 percent and 24.0 percent, respectively. Housing was the largest expenditure component in all three countries. Japan had the lowest housing share, 21.6 percent, of the four countries and was the only country to spend more on food than housing.

Given the USA has vast tracts of land where housing is cheaper than anything comparable in Britain, this seems surprising - except that in many of those places, wages are comparably lower. Additionally, Japan is famous for having some of the most expensive prices per acre in the developed world, with some school playing fields being worth more than the total everything else owned by the school. As ever, there are more questions than answers.

On food:

Japan's consumers spent 21.8 percent of their total expenditures on food in 2009. Of total spending on food in Japan, 21.4 percent was for food outside the home. The United Kingdom had the second-highest share: 19.9 percent of total expenditures on food. Canada, with 14.8 percent, and the United States, with 14.0 percent had the lowest food expenditure shares among the countries studied.

Japan also had the highest ratio of spending on food at home versus away from home, with over 3.5 times as much spending on home cooking as restaurants, cafes and take-aways. The US was the lowest, with a ratio of just 1.4, and the UK lay in the middle of the two, spending just over twice as much on food at home as out.

One final statistic, presented without comment: the average Briton spends 15 per cent of their total expenditure on "culture/entertainment, and recreation", compared to just 6 per cent in America, 8 per cent in Canada, and 11 per cent in Japan.

Hat tip to Brad Plumer of the Washington Post

Rick Santorum drinks a craft beer in Wisconsin. Credit: Getty

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Photo: Getty Images
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Why are boundary changes bad for Labour?

New boundaries, a smaller House of Commons and the shift to individual electoral registration all tilt the electoral battlefield further towards the Conservatives. Why?

The government has confirmed it will push ahead with plans to reduce the House of Commons to 600 seats from 650.  Why is that such bad news for the Labour Party? 

The damage is twofold. The switch to individual electoral registration will hurt Labour more than its rivals. . Constituency boundaries in Britain are drawn on registered electors, not by population - the average seat has around 70,000 voters but a population of 90,000, although there are significant variations within that. On the whole, at present, Labour MPs tend to have seats with fewer voters than their Conservative counterparts. These changes were halted by the Liberal Democrats in the coalition years but are now back on course.

The new, 600-member constituencies will all but eliminate those variations on mainland Britain, although the Isle of Wight, and the Scottish island constituencies will remain special cases. The net effect will be to reduce the number of Labour seats - and to make the remaining seats more marginal. (Of the 50 seats that would have been eradicated had the 2013 review taken place, 35 were held by Labour, including deputy leader Tom Watson's seat of West Bromwich East.)

Why will Labour seats become more marginal? For the most part, as seats expand, they will take on increasing numbers of suburban and rural voters, who tend to vote Conservative. The city of Leicester is a good example: currently the city sends three Labour MPs to Westminster, each with large majorities. Under boundary changes, all three could become more marginal as they take on more wards from the surrounding county. Liz Kendall's Leicester West seat is likely to have a particularly large influx of Tory voters, turning the seat - a Labour stronghold since 1945 - into a marginal. 

The pattern is fairly consistent throughout the United Kingdom - Labour safe seats either vanishing or becoming marginal or even Tory seats. On Merseyside, three seats - Frank Field's Birkenhead, a Labour seat since 1950, and two marginal Labour held seats, Wirral South and Wirral West - will become two: a safe Labour seat, and a safe Conservative seat on the Wirral. Lillian Greenwood, the Shadow Transport Secretary, would see her Nottingham seat take more of the Nottinghamshire countryside, becoming a Conservative-held marginal. 

The traffic - at least in the 2013 review - was not entirely one-way. Jane Ellison, the Tory MP for Battersea, would find herself fighting a seat with a notional Labour majority of just under 3,000, as opposed to her current majority of close to 8,000. 

But the net effect of the boundary review and the shrinking of the size of the House of Commons would be to the advantage of the Conservatives. If the 2015 election had been held using the 2013 boundaries, the Tories would have a majority of 22 – and Labour would have just 216 seats against 232 now.

It may be, however, that Labour dodges a bullet – because while the boundary changes would have given the Conservatives a bigger majority, they would have significantly fewer MPs – down to 311 from 330, a loss of 19 members of Parliament. Although the whips are attempting to steady the nerves of backbenchers about the potential loss of their seats, that the number of Conservative MPs who face involuntary retirement due to boundary changes is bigger than the party’s parliamentary majority may force a U-Turn.

That said, Labour’s relatively weak electoral showing may calm jittery Tory MPs. Two months into Ed Miliband’s leadership, Labour averaged 39 per cent in the polls. They got 31 per cent of the vote in 2015. Two months into Tony Blair’s leadership, Labour were on 53 per cent of the vote. They got 43 per cent of the vote. A month and a half into Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, Labour is on 31 per cent of the vote.  A Blair-style drop of ten points would see the Tories net 388 seats under the new boundaries, with Labour on 131. A smaller Miliband-style drop would give the Conservatives 364, and leave Labour with 153 MPs.  

On Labour’s current trajectory, Tory MPs who lose out due to boundary changes may feel comfortable in their chances of picking up a seat elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics.