May was supposed to be the first month of Britain’s economic recovery, when some restrictions on business activity were eased after the near-total lockdown of April. Some economists predicted the economy would grow by 5.5 percent after contracting by nearly 7 percent in March and a further 20 percent in April. But the data announced Tuesday was greeted as a disappointment, showing just a 1.8 percent increase from the month before.
The British government allowed some manufacturing and construction activity to resume in mid-May, and output in both sectors rose by more than 8 percent. However, the larger services sector remained lackluster, growing by less than 1 percent from April, as about 16 percent of businesses reported having no revenue in the month.
The outlook for the rest of this year remains bleak. The independent Office for Budget Responsibility laid out three scenarios for the trajectory of the British economy, all of which foresee an unprecedented increase in public borrowing to try to offset the economic shock of the pandemic.
“The U.K. is on track to record the largest decline in annual G.D.P. for 300 years, with output falling by more than 10 percent in 2020 in all three scenarios,” the OBR said in a report published Tuesday.
In its central scenario, the office said economic output would return to its pre-pandemic peak by the end of 2022, and the unemployment rate would rise to 10.1 percent next year.