Could we be heading for a second Covid recession?

The political story for the moment is the cost of living crisis. But by the end of the year could we be talking about a recession instead? We shouldn’t read too much into one year’s economic growth figures, especially given how often they are revised upwards or downwards. But February’s figures, published this morning, have caught many people unawares. They show that the economy just about ratcheted upwards in February, growing by 0.1 per cent. That’s compared with healthy growth of 0.8 per cent in January, as the country emerged from the Omicron scare. Notably, in two areas the economy contracted: construction fell by 0.1 per cent and production by

The UK economy has returned to its pre-pandemic size

Nearly two years after the UK experienced its biggest economic collapse in 300 years, the economy has returned to pre-pandemic levels. GDP is estimated by the ONS to have grown by 0.9 per cent in November, almost twice what had been expected – making it 0.7 per cent larger than it was in February 2020. The US and Sweden managed to pass pre-pandemic levels last spring. China took just a few months. But Britain, whose economy fell further than almost any developed country in 2020, is catching up. Britain, whose economy fell further than almost any developed country in 2020, is catching up The below chart shows how UK growth

Covid pingdemic takes its toll on Britain’s economic bounce-back

The arrival of ‘freedom day’ on 19 July enabled people to return to concerts, festivals, and ditch social distancing, but these rediscovered freedoms did not revive the economy. The ONS said this morning that growth was just 0.1 per cent in July, far lower than the consensus forecast. It was particularly disappointing given the growth seen in the locked-down months of June (one per cent) and May (0.6 per cent). The Pingdemic – and concerns about the Delta variant – cancelled out any animal spirits around reopening. August’s GDP boost is going to need to be much stronger for the more bullish forecasts to pan out Nightclubs reopened and the entertainment

Britain’s economic bounce back is less impressive than it seems

The UK economy is rebounding at the fastest rate in Europe, and faster even than the United States: that is the general tone of reporting of today’s GDP figures, which show that the UK economy expanded by 4.8 per cent in the second quarter of 2021. That is compared with 0.9 per cent in France, 1.5 per cent in Germany and 1.6 per cent in the US. But hang on, dig a little deeper and there is something a little odd going on with the figures. Compare nominal and real changes in GDP during the second quarter and it produces the following: UK, nominal growth in second quarter: +3.6 per cent;

The economic case for ditching mask mandates

After many months of hardship and sacrifice, freedom is finally within grasp. Boris Johnson has reclaimed his buccaneering, libertarian spirit and punctured the hopes of zero Covid zealots who wanted more working from home, social distancing and masks. When it comes to face coverings, however, lockdown fans have been working hard to convince the public that they ought to wear them voluntarily — on the off-chance they have the virus and unwittingly hop on to a tube carriage with the unvaccinated. Are they right? Masks are undeniably inconvenient. They’re a pain to wear and a nuisance if forgotten. They reduce the ability to communicate, interpret and mimic the expressions of those with

In defence of the foreign aid cut

It says something for the persuasive powers of former international development secretary, Andrew Mitchell, that he mustered enough potential votes to inflict defeat on Boris Johnson’s government, if only his amendment had been permitted and a vote had been held. Mitchell’s consolation prize, awarded by the Speaker in recognition of the strength of feeling in the Commons, is an emergency debate on what would have been the substance of his amendment: to reinstate foreign aid at 0.7 per cent of GDP from next year, rather than the reduction to 0.5 per cent that was set in the Budget.  The rift this row has exposed among Conservative MPs could embarrass the Prime

France’s latest fiscal trade-off

France’s deficit is set to reach 9.4 per cent of GDP this year, more than last year, even though France’s first lockdown was more severe and lasted for a longer time. This may relate to accounting issues, as some spending is only reported this year even if it is related to last year. But these are details – the main issue is something else entirely. The journalist Dominique Seux wonders whether France has maxed out its spending capacity at the moment when environmental challenges require extraordinary efforts. Were France’s spending choices last year done with full awareness of how they would compromise future fiscal room for manoeuvre? France was always amongst the

When will the economy recover to pre-pandemic levels?

New growth figures were released this morning show that the economy contracted 1.5 per cent in Q1 this year and remains 8.7 per cent smaller than it was in Q4 2019 (the last quarter not to be impacted by the pandemic). Alongside this update, the Office for National Statistics also released its latest set of monthly figures, which saw GDP rise by 2.1 per cent in March — the biggest boost since August last year — taking the economy to 5.9 per cent below pre-pandemic levels. That GDP fell by just 1.5 per cent overall once again illustrates the extent to which businesses have developed a resilience to lockdowns. The first

Will Britain’s economic recovery break records?

It’s been a good week for seeing the vaccine factor at work. We’ve had multiple real-world updates on the Pfizer vaccine’s effectiveness against new variants of Covid-19 (this bodes well for the UK, which was the first country in the world to use the vaccine to protect its most vulnerable residents). And today we’ve had a revised economic forecast from the Bank of England, suggesting the UK’s impressive vaccine rollout could translate into the strongest growth since records began in 1949. The Bank of England now predicts that the economy will expand by more than 7 per cent in 2021, up from its forecast of 5 per cent in February. Its

Have unemployment fears subsided?

Over the past few months, each labour market update from the Office for National Statistics has suggested forecasts predicting mass unemployment were wide of the mark. In the three months leading up to February, unemployment was estimated to hover at 4.9 per cent, 0.9 per cent higher than the previous year but down 0.1 per cent from the previous month. Where credit is due is debated – and likely shared. The jobs retention scheme continues to shield five million workers, who cannot yet return to their jobs, from unemployed status. That GDP has not taken anywhere near the same tumble this winter as it did last spring speaks to innovative

Is the UK taking advantage of its vaccine success?

UK GDP ever so slightly edged up in February, growing 0.4 per cent according to today’s update from the Office for National Statistics. No surprises here: there were no changes to lockdown restrictions between January and February, which gave the economy little room for manoeuvre. The ONS has revised January’s GDP fall from 2.9 to 2.2 per cent: still a contraction, but another good indicator that businesses have significantly adapted to lockdown rules, which has meant that this winter’s lockdown didn’t plunge GDP down to record levels as it did last spring. Still, February serves as another reminder that – despite spectacular market innovation – there is a ceiling on

The UK economy is suffering worse than most

Last week The Spectator highlighted new data from the OECD that offers a weekly update comparing a country’s current GDP levels to the previous year. It continues to show the UK experiencing some of the highest levels of economic damage. If you factor in lockdown stringency, you can also make out a rough correlation between countries under the strictest lockdowns and countries taking the biggest hits to GDP. Just how reliable are these calculations? A cross-check between the OECD data and the Office for National Statistics’ monthly GDP update would suggest it’s pretty spot-on, if not slightly more positive. Today’s update from the ONS shows the economy to be 9.2

What a record GDP slump means for economic recovery

It’s been no mystery that the UK economy took a severe beating in 2020: two lockdowns, a host of circuit-breakers and fire-breakers, Christmas cancelled for millions of people. The experience of an economy forced to hibernate for months on end last year is reflected in today’s GDP update from the Office for National Statistics, showing the economy contracted 9.9 per cent last year — the ‘largest yearly fall on record’ and biggest contraction in 300 years. The fall isn’t quite as stark as the Office for Budget Responsibility forecast alongside the Chancellor’s spending review last November (an estimated 11.3 per cent), but it still represents one of the largest economic

Covid-19 and the problem with ‘happiness’ research

Today is supposedly Blue Monday. Sixteen years ago, a travel agency published a press release claiming that the third Monday in January is the most depressing day of the year. The idea is superficially plausible. It’s mid-January. It’s cold. You’re skint after Christmas. You’re back at work after the weekend. There are worse candidates for the most miserable day of the year. But as a scientific claim, it was swiftly debunked and the academic responsible for it has since disowned it. It lives on as a way of filling space in newspapers and is probably most famous for being untrue. If it weren’t for the ‘I think you’ll find it’s

Has the economy developed lockdown immunity?

This morning’s update from the Office for National Statistics has boosted optimism about the prospect of the UK’s economic recovery. GDP fell 2.6 per cent in November last year, reversing the trend of six consecutive months of increases since April’s significant contraction. This takes GDP back down to 8.5 per cent below last February’s levels — wiping out the recovery gains made between roughly the end of July and November. Not, on the surface, good news — but there is a case for optimism. Cast your mind back to the economic conditions in November: England’s second lockdown had just been announced and there was a host of fire-breakers and circuit-breaks throughout the UK.

Why 2021 could be the year of economic Armageddon

The British economy is wrapped in bandages – we won’t know whether the wound has scabbed or turned septic until they are ripped away. By the time the furlough scheme ends in April, whole sectors of the economy will have been out of action or severely incapacitated for over a year. Cash grants and the job retention scheme, both riddled with fraud, have propped up zombie businesses, some of which would have gone bust in the last year even without a pandemic. Of the businesses frozen in March 2020, how many will come out of hibernation in April 2021? How many people on furlough will discover that they have, in

How long will it take Britain’s economy to bounce back from Covid?

Britain’s economy experienced a record rebound between July and September, growing 15.5 per cent. But the vast majority of this recovery took place early on – and there are worrying signs that this slowdown has continued in the months since.  Towards the end of the summer, monthly growth figures were already starting to disappoint. Despite August being the most open month this year since the pandemic struck, with restrictions on businesses and social gatherings the most liberal they had been since mid-March, growth was only 2.2 per cent, followed by 1.1 per cent in September. This major slowdown shows that the economy can only recover so much while major Covid-19

Britain’s economy has been bouncing back – but there’s a major caveat

Britain’s economy rebounded by a record 15.5 per cent between July and September, reflecting the relaxation of lockdown measures and increased consumer activity over the summer. This is the largest quarterly growth in the UK economy the Office for National Statistics has reported since records began in 1955. Services, manufacturing, production and construction saw big uplifts across the board in Q3, but all remain below their Q4 levels in 2019, reflecting that the economy as a whole has not recovered to its pre-Covid levels: it is still 8.2 per cent smaller than it was at the start of the year. But with this good news comes a major caveat: while the economic bounce

How new Covid restrictions are stalling the economy

The theory behind a V-shaped recovery relied on the assumption that the economy would open up almost as quickly as it shut down. This did not happen. The UK moved at a much slower pace than its European counterparts exiting stringent lockdown measures. And already restrictions are being implemented again. August’s GDP figures were surprisingly dismal, and now all future monthly updates for economic growth will be affected by a longer list of restrictions that are bound to impact recovery. As a result, scenarios for the UK’s economic recovery are being revised to reflect this. In the last day, we’ve had two updates: one from the IFS’s Green Budget (in association with

Why did economic growth in August fall flat?

August should have been a relative boom for the British economy: restrictions were the most relaxed since the Covid crisis began. Businesses in the hospitality and leisure industries were largely allowed to reopen by this point, and public transport guidance changed to allow non-essential workers to return to the office. On top of these liberalisations, schemes like Eat Out to Help Out were brought in to encourage – even subsidise – more economic activity. Yet growth figures fell flat, increasing by 2.1 per cent – roughly half of what was expected by economists. It appears economic recovery started to stagnate (down from June’s 9.1 per cent and July’s 6.4 per