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The sick man of Europe

Britain falls into the worst recession since 1950s while holding record for most coronavirus related deaths in Europe

BRITAIN is in its worst recession for 65 years due to the Covid-19 crisis, while also holding the record for the most deaths in Europe during the pandemic, it was confirmed today.

Between April and June the economy contracted by a record 20.4 per cent, partly as a result of mis-timed lockdown measures put in place too late to slow the spread of the virus.

The quarterly drop is the worst since records began in 1955, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

It is the first recession in 11 years, after the global financial crisis of 2008-09, and follows a decade of damaging Tory-led austerity.

Britain’s slump is much deeper than those recorded by comparable G7 nations’ economies such as Germany, France, Italy and the United States.

Canada and Japan have yet to publish their second-quarter figures.

Economists have suggested that Britain’s downturn is more severe because Prime Minister Boris Johnson imposed lockdown at a later stage in the pandemic than other countries.

By the time Mr Johnson announced the measure on March 23, Britain had a bigger first wave than would otherwise have been expected, and lockdown has had to go on for longer as a result.

Shops in Germany reopened on May 6, for example, while those in England reopened on June 15.

Shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds has criticised the government’s decision to withdraw the Jobs Retention Scheme and business support from October as a “historic mistake” that will exacerbate the current jobs crisis. 

Earlier this week it was revealed that 5.5 million people are claiming Universal Credit benefits.

On Tuesday the ONS labour-market overview revealed that the fall in employment between April and June has been the deepest for more than a decade. 

There were 730,000 fewer people employed nationwide last month than in March, and a third of companies have indicated that they expect to make redundancies between now and September.

Ms Dodds said: “The Prime Minister will say there’s only so much he could do during a global pandemic, but that doesn’t explain why our economy is tanking so badly compared to other countries. 

“It was his government that snatched away wage support for businesses that hadn’t even reopened yet. And his government that failed to get test, trace and isolate working, despite claiming it’s a ‘world-beating’ system. 

“A downturn was inevitable after lockdown — but Johnson’s jobs crisis wasn’t. Now he must take responsibility, scrap the one-size-fits-all withdrawal of wage support and bring the health crisis properly under control.” 

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said the government “must do everything” to stop mass unemployment, adding that the best way to improve the economy is to keep people in work.

“That means extending the job retention scheme for companies that have a viable future but need support beyond October.  

“And it means investing in the decent jobs we need for the future in green industries, social care and across the public sector,” Ms O’Grady said.

Rob Griffiths of the Communist Party of Britain said: “This hopeless government has underestimated the economic threat posed by Covid just as it began the crisis by underestimating the health threat. 

“Workers and unions will need to fight for jobs across Britain on a scale not seen for many decades, while also demanding safe working conditions.”

In response to the damning GDP figures, Chancellor Rishi Sunak said: “While there are difficult choices to be made ahead, we will get through this, and I can assure people that nobody will be left without hope or opportunity.”

Britain and Northern Ireland combined have the highest official coronavirus death toll in Europe with 46,706 deaths, though the number of excess deaths is even higher.

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