The COVID-19 crisis will push the country into an unprecedented economic slump. Just how big the slump will be is currently unknown but experts’ predictions aren’t optimistic. One independent forecast by the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) warned that the economy could shrink by a record 35% by June, in the case of a three month lockdown followed by three months of further restrictions. This is just a prediction, but one thing for certain is that the lockdown will have serious economic implications.
When we start to talk about recovery, things begin to get even murkier as the impact of the current lockdown is unknown. We don’t know for certain how far the economy will fall or whether firms will be able to cope with any partial restrictions when things do begin to return to normality. What’s more, it’s possible that there could be further lockdowns to control future outbreaks before a vaccine is found.
The government has said that it is “not just going to stand by” and let the economy slide. They have said that they plan to protect millions of jobs, businesses and self-employed people. This said, there is a limit to just how much they can do. The OBR predicts a further rise in the amount of borrowing by the end of the year up to £273 billion, which would represent the largest deficit as a share of GDP since World War Two.
Robert Chote, chairman of the OBR, said that a drop of 35% in the economy would be “the largest in living memory.” The public body also predicts that unemployment will rise by 2.1 million to 3.4 million by the end of June. This would put the unemployment rate up to 10%, a level not seen since the mid 1990s.
The total economy is set to contract by almost 13% in 2020. To find an economic shrinkage of a similar size, we need to go back much further than the 90’s or even the Second World War. The last time the UK economy declined by this amount was in 1709 when, again, nature was to blame. ‘The Great Frost’ struck Europe, killing hundreds of thousands and resulting in widespread famine across the continent.
Despite all this doom and gloom, the OBR does expect the UK economy to get back to its pre-crisis growth trend by the end of 2020. They also predict that unemployment will start to fall, easing to around 7.3% at the end of the year.
Looking further into the future, a large amount of public debt will be the economic legacy of COVID-19. Public debt is expected to remain at 84.9% of GDP in four years’ time after peaking at over 100% by the end of this financial year. Whether this will mean a return to austerity remains to be seen. The UK could place a greater emphasis on tax rises to generate revenue, which could see a rise to corporation tax or higher rate income tax.