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UK Announces Largest Peacetime Borrowing Ever as COVID Fuels Economic Plunge Not Seen for 300 Years

Wednesday November 25th, 2020

The British economy is forecast to contract by 11.3% in 2020, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR).

The OBR also forecast that borrowing is set to reach a total of £394 billion this year, 19% of GDP, its highest level peacetime history.

The U.K. has announced its largest peacetime borrowing level ever as the coronavirus pandemic is forecast to cause the largest plunge in economic output for 300 years.

The British economy is forecast to contract by 11.3% in 2020, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), before growing by 5.5% in 2021, 6.6% in 2022 and 2.3%, 1.7% and 1.8% in each of the following years.

GDP (gross domestic product) is not expected to return to pre-crisis levels until the fourth quarter of 2022, and the economy will be around 3% smaller in 2025 than expected in the government’s March budget.

The OBR also forecast that borrowing is set to reach a total of £394 billion this year, 19% of GDP, its highest level peacetime history, before falling to £164 billion in 2021, £105 billion in 2022/3 and remaining at around £100 billion, 4% of GDP, for the remainder of the forecast period.

Underlying debt after removing the temporary impact of the Bank of England’s asset purchase program is forecast to be 91% of GDP this year, rising steadily to 97.5% in 2025/6.

In his budget statement today, British Finance Minister Rishi Sunak announced £280 billion in public spending to guide the country through the aftermath of the pandemic.

Ahead of the release, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman had told reporters that the OBR forecasts would be “sobering” but that “costs would have been much higher” had the government not taken its chosen course of action to combat the pandemic.

As of Wednesday morning, the U.K. has recorded more than 1.5 million cases of Covid-19 and 55,935 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. England is currently in lockdown until December 2 in a bid to halt a second wave of infections, after which a nationwide tiering system will be reintroduced.

Preliminary figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) earlier this month showed the U.K. economy grew by 15.5% in the third quarter, its sharpest quarterly expansion since records began, following a record 19.8% plunge in the previous quarter.

However, activity is expected to take another hit in the run up to year-end. GDP (gross domestic product) remains 9.7% below the level seen at the end of 2019, according to the ONS.

In an effort to avoid a sudden spike in unemployment, the government has already announced the extension of its furlough scheme until the end of March.

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