Horrifying, ain't it? But then it's only half the picture. There is no point in listing the nation's liabilities without comparing them with its assets. And, according to (yes) the Office for National Statistics (here), the value of the nation's assets amounts to some £7 trillion.
The true scale of Britain's national indebtedness was laid bare by the Office for National Statistics yesterday: almost £4 trillion, or £4,000bn*, about four times higher than previously acknowledged.
It quantifies the burden that will be placed on future generations, and it is the ONS's first attempt to draw together the "off-balance-sheet" liabilities that have been accumulated by the state. The figures imply a huge "intergenerational transfer" – broadly in favour of today's "baby boomer" generation at the expense of younger people and future generations.
The debt primarily consists of the cost of public sector and state pensions, and of payments promised to private contractors under private finance initiatives. It far exceeds any of the figures so far published for the national debt, the largest current estimate for which is £903bn. That is projected to rise to £1.3trn by 2015.
Now, if you or I had assets of say (to reduce it to comprehensible proportions) £70,000 compared with debts of £40,000, we would not necessarily think that we were in a bad place. Indeed, some of us have mortgage debts that amount to 70 or 80% of our total gross worth and it's not something over which to cry ourselves to sleep every night. So look on the bright side, chums: the country is not yet down the swannee.
* £4 trillion = £4,000,000,000,000