UK economy grew by 1.8% in May as lockdown started to ease

14 July 2020, 07:14

Economy 'still a quarter below' pre-crisis level in May
Economy 'still a quarter below' pre-crisis level in May. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

The UK economy grew by 1.8% in May as activity began to recover as the coronavirus lockdown eased, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has said.

The ONS reported the improvement in UK output during May compared to the previous month but said the economy remained 24.5 per cent below its pre-crisis level in February.

Despite the month-on-month increase in gross domestic product (GDP), output is still a long way from recovering from the record falls seen in March and April when Britain was in full lockdown - and was 24.5% lower compared with February before the crisis struck.

May's GDP growth is also far short of the 5% rise expected by most economists.

Jonathan Athow, the deputy national statistician at the Office for National Statistics (ONS), said of the May economy figures: "Manufacturing and house-building showed signs of recovery as some businesses saw staff return to work.

"Despite this, the economy was still a quarter smaller in May than in February, before the full effects of the pandemic struck.

"In the important services sector we saw some pick-up in retail, which saw record online sales.

"However, with lockdown restrictions remaining in place, many other services remained in the doldrums, with a number of areas seeing further declines."

Chancellor Rishi Sunak says firms will be asked to make furlough contributions from August

Rishi Sunak said in response to the ONS figures: "Today's figures underline the scale of the challenge we face.

"I know people are worried about the security of their jobs and incomes.

"That's why I set out our Plan for Jobs last week, following the PM's new deal for Britain, to protect, support and create jobs as we safely reopen our economy.

"Our clear plan invests up to £30bn in significant and targeted support to put people's livelihoods at the centre of our national renewal as we emerge through the other side of this crisis."

Furlough needs to be extended for those who are shielding

UK retailers have said they saw the biggest monthly sales jump in more than two years in June after swathes of high street stores reopened but warned that the troubled sector is "not out of the woods yet".

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium (BRC), said: "June finally saw a return to growth in total sales, primarily driven by online as a result of lockdown measures being eased and pent-up demand being released.

"Despite footfall still being well below pre-coronavirus levels, average spend was up as consumers made the most of their occasional shopping trips.

"Though a month of growth is welcome news, retail is not out of the woods yet.

"The pandemic continues to pose huge challenges to the industry, with ongoing store closures and job losses across the UK."