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UK state debt tops £2 trillion on COVID-19 support

UK state debt tops £2 trillion on COVID-19 support

FILE PHOTO: Britain's economy shrank more in the second quarter than any other country in the Group of Seven. (AFP/Paul Ellis)

LONDON: British government debt has exceeded £2 trillion for the first time following massive state borrowing as the coronavirus pandemic pushed the UK economy into a record recession, official data showed on Friday.

At the end of July, total accumulated debt hit £2.004 trillion (US$2.61 trillion), the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said in a statement.

That equated to more than 100 per cent of the country's annual gross domestic product, or total economic output, for the first time since 1961.

By comparison, Apple this week became the first US company to have a market valuation totalling US$2 trillion (£1.5 trillion), boosted as it is seen as a key winner in the new post-coronavirus economy.

READ: Apple becomes first US company to top US$2 trillion in market value

Compared with July 2019, UK debt increased by £227.6 billion, reflecting the huge increase in borrowing needed to tackle the pandemic.

"SIGNIFICANT STRAIN"

"This crisis has put the public finances under significant strain as we have seen a hit to our economy and taken action to support millions of jobs, businesses and livelihoods," finance minister Rishi Sunak said.

"Without that support things would have been far worse."

Net borrowing between April and the end of July is estimated to have hit £150.5 billion, the ONS said.

Last month's figure alone came in at £26.7 billion, as the UK emerged from a strict lockdown imposed at the end of March to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

"Today's figures are a stark reminder that we must return our public finances to a sustainable footing over time, which will require taking difficult decisions," Chancellor of the Exchequer Sunak said.

READ: UK economy slumps 20% in Q2 due to COVID-19, unemployment fears mount

"It is also why we are taking action now to support the growth and jobs which pay for our public service, by helping businesses to reopen safely."

RETAIL RECOVERY

Separate official data on Friday showed that British retail sales jumped by 3.6 per cent in July from June as shops, restaurants and pubs reopened.

"Retail sales have now regained all the ground lost during the height of the coronavirus restrictions as more stores open for trade and online sales remain at historically high levels," ONS statistician Jonathan Athow said on Friday.

"While still below their pre-pandemic levels, both fuel and clothing sales continued to recover.

"Meanwhile, food sales fell back from their recent peaks as people started to venture back into pubs and restaurants," Athow added.

Marks and Spencer, the British food and clothes retailer, announced this week that it was cutting 7,000 jobs as COVID-19 increasingly pushes customers to shop online.

READ: UK suffers biggest job losses since 2009 as COVID-19 hits

The company joins the likes of UK department store chains Debenhams and John Lewis, as well as pharmacy group Boots, in cutting thousands of jobs owing to pandemic fallout.

Britain's economy shrank by one fifth in the second quarter, more than any European neighbour, as the lockdown plunged the country into its deepest recession on record.

Even though the UK economy is beginning to rebound as the government eases strict confinement measures - private sector output grew rapidly in August according to data on Friday - analysts expect a surge in unemployment by the end of the year.

In October, Sunak plans to end the government's furlough scheme that is paying up to 80 per cent of wages for around 10 million workers during the pandemic.

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Source: AFP/lk

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