UK economic recovery tracker

The cost of coronavirus in the UK has been severe, with the economy shrinking 25 per cent between February and April, the deepest and most sudden downturn for at least three centuries.

But a recovery has started and official figures are often out of date even before they are published.

The Financial Times has selected the most representative data available to track the fast-changing economic situation and the sectors hit hardest by the pandemic. The charts will be updated as fresh figures are published.

All the statistics are experimental and not as comprehensive as official figures, so conclusions should be drawn cautiously.

Consumer spending

Consumer spending, which comprises almost two-thirds of the UK’s gross domestic product, began to fall sharply in March as the Covid-19 lockdown became inevitable.

Even though online spending has increased steadily, total expenditure remains depressed. The year-on-year fall, measured by card use across the UK, is no longer anything like the 20 per cent drop in April’s GDP but the most recent data show spending remains well below that of the same time in 2019.

Chart showing that spending is beginning to recover in several UK sectors

Job vacancies

With more than 9m people furloughed since the coronavirus crisis started and the jobless claimant count soaring since February, the risk of mass unemployment is a great concern among ministers and economists — the crisis could leave a generation largely out of work for the first time since the 1980s.

Unemployment data come with a very long delay and vacancies will offer the earliest indicator of a turnround in fortunes in the jobs market. The latest weekly statistics from the Office for National Statistics collected with Adzuna, the online job search engine, suggest vacancies are still well down on their 2019 level, although they have improved since early May.

Chart showing that job vacancies collapsed in most sectors, but are beginning to recover

Reopening of businesses

In early April, when the country was in full lockdown, more than one in five businesses were shut, including about 80 per cent of those operating in the arts, entertainment, accommodation and food services sectors, which are some of the hardest hit by the pandemic.

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With the relaxation of restrictions, more companies reopened across all sectors, with strong improvements in manufacturing, retail and construction. However, social distancing measures and lower sales are preventing a full recovery, and weighing on growth and jobs.

Chart showing that some sectors are close to normal operations, but others are still largely shut

Retail footfall

During the pandemic, many shoppers have shifted to online purchases but the high street is still the mainstay of shopping and, via pubs and restaurants, night-time entertainment. The big question is whether people have the confidence to spend their savings or prefer to tighten their belts in the face of uncertainty around the economy and their health.

Retail footfall records people in high streets and shopping centres across the UK, both in the daytime and evenings. Numbers are still well down compared with a year ago, according to data from the retail consultancy Springboard, but the situation has started to improve since the reopening of non-essential shops on June 15 and pubs and restaurants three weeks later.

Chart showing that retail footfall picked up when shops reopened on June 15, but remains well down on normal levels

Entertainment

With hospitality and entertainment at the sharp end of the crisis, the number of visits to UK entertainment hubs, restaurants and cinemas gives an indication of the degree to which the economy is running normally.

Such trips are still below both pre-coronavirus levels and most European countries, the latter fact largely reflecting the later easing of restrictions in the UK. However, steady improvements from April’s low signal a continuing recovery.

Chart showing that the UK’s hospitality and entertainment sector is struggling to recover

Restaurants

Many of the UK’s restaurants have managed to prevent revenues from flatlining during lockdown by offering takeaway or delivery services. But their recovery was kick-started on July 4 when they were allowed to open their doors to dine-in customers.

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The impact was immediate, according to data from restaurant booking company OpenTable.

Chart showing that Britons are beginning to return to restaurants, but there’s a long way to go

Britain’s restaurateurs and publicans will hope the initial uptick is just the start of the recovery and that the trajectory mirrors countries where bookings have continued to rise after the initial surge.

In Germany, business was almost back to the historical average within two months, while bookings in Ireland took only 10 days to recover 90 per cent of what lockdown took away.

Fast-food outlets began their recovery earlier because there were fewer restrictions on takeaways, according to data from location tracking specialists Huq Industries.

Chart showing that Britons are returning to pubs and restaurants, but there’s a long way to go

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