Photographer: Peter Byrne/PA Images via AP Photo

Theresa May Is Facing a Winter of Discontent

  • Four charts show why NHS is causing headaches for the premier
  • It’s latest manifestation of unhappiness with state of affairs

A winter health crisis and a bungled cabinet reshuffle later, reality has bitten Theresa May.

The British prime minister wanted to prove she wasn’t just “Madam Brexit” and shed the mark of austerity that dogs her Conservative Party. But it’s been tough. These four charts tell you why she’s struggling to win the public over.

The National Health Service is in dire straits

Margaret Thatcher’s one-time chancellor -- Nigel Lawson -- famously said the National Health Service “was the closest thing the English people have to a religion.” People still feel passionate about the venerable post-war institution with polls regularly showing it’s foremost in the mind of voters, topping Brexit.

But the cash-strapped NHS is in trouble. Its staffing and bed shortages provide non-stop fodder for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party to attack May. A spike in illness during a harsh winter has put her on the defensive, apologizing for her Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who was destined for the chop but managed to argue his way into keeping his job in this week’s reshuffle.

Under Pressure

Britain has fewer nurses relative to its population than most advanced economies

Source: Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development

Note: figures relate to 2015 or nearest year

Stories of canceled operations and people left in ambulances waiting to be handed over to emergency departments abound in the national press. Data Thursday showed many hospitals had no free beds at various points last week and 15 percent of patients at major casualty units waited longer than four hours to be seen in December, the joint worst figure on record. It’s telling that after her first major speech of the year, focused on the environment, the first question May was asked was about the lack of funding for the NHS.

Your take-home salary has barely changed in a decade

May and Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond point to a growing economy and historically low unemployment levels as evidence of healthy fundamentals, even in the face of uncertainty caused by Britain’s divorce from the European Union. But wage growth is anemic and lagging behind the rate of inflation. For Britons of working age, real disposable incomes are barely higher than they were before the financial crisis a decade ago, official figures showed this week.

Lost Decade

The living standards of non-retired households in Britain have barely risen since 2008

Source: Office for National Statistics

Index financial year ending March 2008 = 100

May’s administration still doesn’t look like the rest of Britain

Youth and diversity were promised in the reshuffle and at the end of it, it was declared that May’s new team “looks more like the country it serves.” The evidence says otherwise. 

There was some progress in the junior ranks, with more women and more ministers from ethnic minorities. But while more women will also now attend meetings of May’s 29-strong top team -- 10 -- just six of those are full members of the cabinet, unchanged from last year. 

Representative Government?

Seven percent of Britons attend fee-paying schools but the proportion in the Cabinet is 35%

Source: Sutton Trust

Note: figures show school background of the January 2018 Cabinet

As for being representative of Britain, The Sutton Trust says 35 percent of the cabinet were educated privately, compared with 7 percent nationally. More startlingly, 48 percent of the cabinet attended just two universities: Oxford and Cambridge. That compares with less than 1 percent of the population as a whole.

First-time homes for strapped young buyers still a pipe dream

Everyone is in agreement that getting a foot in the property market is getting harder for every new generation of Brits. May has promised to try to solve the housing crisis by building more homes. She’s also pledged to push large infrastructure projects such as high-speed rail links and new nuclear plants to show that Brexit-bound Britain is open for investment. But the statistics aren’t encouraging.

Construction Woes

From infrastructure to offices, U.K. building output has fallen in the past six months

Source: Office for National Statistics

Note: latest figure shows three months through November

Across-the-board weakness saw construction-industry output fall 2 percent in the latest three months, the biggest drop since 2012, according to the most recent data from the Office for National Statistics. Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable, who leads the pro-EU campaigning for a second referendum, said Brexit is at least partly responsible because construction “is particularly dependent on EU workers who are leaving in an ever-worsening Brexodus.”

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