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UK credit card lending

We know that the UK has become a nation of borrowers - we can't help but know this because it's an issue that's received a lot of attention in recent years.

We've heard it described as being at the centre of the economic problems that the country is facing. But just how much are we borrowing as a nation? Have things been changing?

The graph below shows the levels of credit card borrowing in the UK from 1993 to 2010. The trend is pretty easy to see. We've been borrowing at an increasing rate. It seems that we've become addicted to credit cards:

UK credit card spending

The interesting thing about this graph is that we can clearly see that credit card borrowing massively increased in the period from around 1995 to 2005. During those 10 years, we all went "credit card crazy". The banks and financial institutions were all keen to lend to us and it seems that we, as a population, were only too happy to borrow.

That period saw a frenzy of spending on credit cards. Many people will still undoubtedly still be paying off debts relating to that period. The role of borrowing and debt is starkly illustrated here. But what's also of interest is the scale of the borrowing.

Take a look at the left-hand side of the graph. These figures are in millions of pounds.

It's hard to believe. In March 2010 the total amount owed on credit cards by UK consumers was £59,756,000,000. That's eye-watering. In fact, it's hard to really begin to imagine what that amount of money means in terms that you and I can appreciate.

Putting it into perspective

So let's have it go at looking at what these debt levels really mean. This graph gives some rough figures on how our own levels of spending compare with how much has been spent elsewhere:

Manchester city debt

So the scale here is the same as the one used at the top of the page. That means that we're still looking at figures in millions of pounds.

So the first column shows the UK's spending on healthcare in 2010-2011. The next column shows how much we owe on credit cards. That's right. It's not a mistake. Our credit card borrowing is equal to roughly half of the total NHS budget.

But it gets worse. The next column shows total spending on transport by central and local government. As you can see, it looks pretty small compared to our credit card spending. So does the total income generated by Google in 2010. That's Google - one of the biggest companies on the planet.

They reckon that they're doing pretty well. They're making a lot of money. But look at how fast we can spend money and stick it on our credit cards!

The final column shows spending on transfers by Manchester City Football Club. They are rumoured to be the richest football club in the world right now. Over the last couple of years they've been on a spending spree, buying up some of the best footballers around.

But they barely make a blip on this graph. They think of that as a spending spree? They should see what we can do with our credit cards!

About the graphs

The credit card debt figures in the graph are based on those provided by the Bank of England. You can download the full dataset from their website.

To check these figures, you can opt to view: Quarterly amounts outstanding of total sterling net credit card lending to individuals (in sterling millions) not seasonally adjusted. The dataset runs from 30 June 1993 to 30 September 2010.

Figures for NHS spending and transport spending are taken from the ONS. Google revenue figures are taken from Google (originally in dollars - converted to pounds sterling, assuming an exchange rate of £1 = $1.59.

Figures for spending by Manchester City are taken from figures provided by Soccerbase online.