Britain’s economy slumped by 20.4% in April in the biggest monthly decline since records began, as the coronavirus lockdown paralysed the country.
Official figures for gross domestic product (GDP), the broadest measure of economic prosperity, from the Office for National Statistics showed the impact of measures that forced businesses across the UK to close and millions of workers to be put on furlough.
Revealing the scale of the economic downturn in the first full month of lockdown, April was a particularly tough month for employees and companies, with vast swathes of the UK economy unable to operate.
Virtually no area of the economy was left unscathed as people were told to stay at home to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and businesses closed. Britain’s dominant services sector shrank by a fifth, fuelled by the closure of the high street, evaporating sales of cars, as well as pubs, restaurants and hotels.
Faced with disruption to international supply chains and the need to protect workers, shutdowns in production at many factories and the running of reduced hours at others led manufacturing output to fall by a quarter. With cranes and diggers across the country falling idle as the virus spread, construction output plunged by 40%.
Jonathan Athow, deputy national statistician for economic statistics at the ONS, said: “April’s fall in GDP is the biggest the UK has ever seen, more than three times larger than last month and almost 10 times larger than the steepest pre-Covid-19 fall.”
Although some lockdown measures are now being eased, the snapshot from the ONS shows Britain’s economy at the onset of the deepest recession in living memory, in a crash far outstripping the worst damage recorded in the 2008 financial crisis.
Over the wider three-month period to the end of April, GDP fell by 10.4%, as government restrictions on movement dramatically reduced economic activity. Alongside the domestic hit to activity as Boris Johnson’s government imposed harsh restrictions on business and social life, the ONS said the UK’s trade with the rest of the world was also badly affected by the pandemic. There were large falls in the import and export of cars, fuels, works of art and clothing.
This week the OECD said the UK economy would shrink by more than any other developed country as businesses struggled to recover from the pandemic. It predicted GDP would contract by 11.5% in 2020 or 14% if the virus returned and forced the government into a second lockdown.