Kate Andrews Kate Andrews

In the race to recovery, Britain is losing

There are many ways to measure a Covid comeback, and we are behind in nearly all of them

[Getty Images]

At the start of lockdown, the government was obsessed with how other countries were dealing with the Covid crisis. In No. 10 press conferences, Britain’s daily death toll was shown next to numbers from the rest of the world, putting our handling of the virus into perspective. But when our death toll jumped, the government claimed the calculations were too different to compare and dropped the graph. A few weeks ago, the Office for National Statistics picked up where the government had left off, revealing that England had the highest number of excess deaths in Europe, while Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were in the top eight. The UK had lost the first leg of the Covid race.

Now it looks set to lose the second: the race to recovery. This depends on two things: how far countries fall, and how quickly they bounce back. We found out the first of these this week. Official figures showed the UK economy contracted a staggering 20.4 per cent between April and June, far worse than the EU average of 12 per cent. The British economy is nearly a fifth smaller now than it was at the start of the year, the consequence of which is fewer jobs, lower wages, lack of options — not to mention opportunity — and a fall in our standard of living.

‘We're making a meal of it.’

Every western country has been plunged into recession by Covid-19. But almost no one has been quite as badly hit as Britain. Earlier this year, the ONS published a study which helps explain why: the stringency of lockdown policy correlated to a bigger GDP downturn. As a services-heavy economy, the UK was always going to get clobbered by certain measures, like social distancing. But the decision to live in lockdown longer than other European countries, and with far tighter rules, has left us with our worst recession on record and the sharpest economic contraction since the Great Frost of 1709.

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