Sex, drugs and GDP

Sex, drugs and GDP

How big is Britain’s drugs and prostitution industry? Up until recently this question didn’t frequently come up at the Office for National Statistics, the keepers of Britain’s economic data.

But a change in international statistical regulations has meant they now have to include such activity in Britain’s gross domestic product. Which means that for the past few months the boffins over at Newport have spent their time trying to work out how much money is generated from these illegal trades.

Their conclusion? That it comes to about £10bn a year – that’s around £5.3bn from prostitution and £4.4bn from illegal drugs. Set against Britain’s £1,600bn total GDP that might sound rather small, until you realise that it is about the same size as:

1. Agriculture – worth about £9bn


2. Accommodation services – £9.2bn



That includes hotels, campsites and holiday accommodation

3. Publishing – worth about £11bn. 


And journalists should bear in mind, “publishing activities” – the ONS’s sectoral classification – includes both book publishing and newspaper and magazines.

Sarah O’Conner at the FT has an amusing blog [£] about the ONS’s struggles to get to these total numbers (it makes for mildly awkward reading). The one thing I’d add is a bit of detail they’ve provided on the scale of the prostitution sector.



As you can see from number 1, they’ve calculated that there are around “58,000 prostitutes in the country”. That’s only 20,000 short of the total number of people working in the mining and quarrying industry.

You can read the full ONS report here.