Comparing Public Policy in the U.S. & Great Britain

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  • 00:00 Separated by a Common Language
  • 00:50 Education
  • 2:02 Healthcare
  • 3:10 Social Security
  • 3:54 Defense
  • 4:58 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

The United States and the United Kingdom have a great deal in common, from language and culture to relative tax burdens on their populations. How they spend that money, however, offers real differences.

Separated by a Common Language

A great deal of similarities exist between the societies of the United Kingdom and the United States. Most obviously, the majority language in both countries is English. Also, we share a common history, legal system, and much of our culture comes from the United Kingdom.

However, in other ways, our two countries could not be more different. For starters, the United States is a republic, while the United Kingdom is a constitutional monarchy. Though both are democratic, both countries have different ways of going about politics and public policy. In fact, as this lesson shows, the United States and United Kingdom have quite different approaches to public policy, namely in regards to education, healthcare, social security, and defense.


Education is a great example of ways that the United States and the United Kingdom have completely different approaches to public policy. As a note, as the two countries differ greatly with regards to tax revenue collected each year, we'll use percentage of total government spending as a more equitable way of comparing them.

In the United States, 2.6% of federal spending is allocated towards education. This covers everything from student loan subsidies to the Department of Education's initiatives for K-12 schools. States and local communities are expected to subsidize universities and public schools, although a thriving system of both private universities and private schools exists. Still, higher education is largely the responsibility of the individual.

Meanwhile, 13% of British government spending is spent on education. Local councils and other forms of local government foot the bill for much of the state-sponsored primary and secondary schools. The real difference comes with regards to education. With only a handful of exceptions, every university in the United Kingdom is public. They are heavily subsidized from this segment of government spending, often being much cheaper than American in-state tuition at a public college.


Another example where the United States and the United Kingdom are vastly different is healthcare. In the United States, government-sponsored healthcare is available to the elderly, the disabled, children, or the severely economically-challenged. Even with those limitations, public spending on healthcare in the US makes up approximately 24% of the national budget. Otherwise, individuals are expected to secure their own health coverage, whether through an employer or through their own efforts. Recently, a series of controversial reforms under the Affordable Care Act have made paying for such care easier.

In the United Kingdom, it is a completely different story. All British and EU citizens, as well as select groups that don't meet those criteria, are granted free healthcare under the National Health Service or NHS. The NHS has been in existence since the end of World War II, and while hotly debated in British society, it's still highly revered. It makes up 18% of British government expenses.

Social Security

One area in which the United States and United Kingdom have a great deal of common ground is respect to social security, or programs that provide pensions for the elderly, the disabled, and the unemployed. In the United States, Social Security makes up 24% of the budget, while the British spend 29% of their income on such programs.

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