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UK’s economic recovery from Covid stalled in June amid ‘pingdemic’

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<span>Photograph: Niklas Halle’n/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Niklas Halle’n/AFP/Getty Images

Britain’s recovery from the pandemic slowed last month as shortages of goods supplied to factories, building sites and shops began to take their toll on growth and increasing numbers of workers across the country were forced to isolate after being pinged by the NHS app.

According to the Guardian’s monthly snapshot of economic developments, there was a slowdown in economic growth in June, which could continue if the Delta variant continues to hamper business activity.

Construction companies reported a second month of declining activity as the combined impact of EU staff returning home following Brexit and a shortage of materials hit their ability to maintain previously high levels.

Overall retail footfall in mid-July was three-quarters of the level recorded in the equivalent week of 2019, prior to the pandemic, reflecting continued caution among shoppers as Covid infection rates remained high.

Financial markets took a dive last week in response to concerns that governments were struggling to suppress the Delta variant and fears the highly contagious strain of the coronavirus would persist into the autumn.

A more recent improvement in the infection rate following a halving of reported cases in the UK helped markets recover some losses this week. But analysts said the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee (MPC), which meets next week to set interest rates, was likely to maintain its base rate at the historic low of 0.1% over fears that the virus could flare up again.

Central bank policymakers are divided about the likely path of the recovery, with deputy governor Sir Dave Ramsden and external member Michael Saunders, a former City economist, saying it was time to begin withdrawing the £150bn stimulus injected into the economy this year as part of an £875bn quantitative easing programme.

However, a majority of the nine-strong committee have argued in separate speeches for the plan to remain in place, leaving little doubt that the central bank’s policy of low interest rates and QE will persist following next week’s meeting.

In a speech earlier this week at the London School of Economics, MPC member Jan Vlieghe said Britain’s economy was not out of the woods and the damage caused by the Covid-19 pandemic has been only partly repaired.

Writing in the Guardian, the shadow chancellor, Rachel Reeves, said: “The real-world impact of this government’s lack of grip is all too clear, not least when it comes to the economy.

“The UK had the worst economic performance in the G7 last year and isn’t bouncing back the way others are. The US has already reached pre-crisis levels of GDP per capita. The latest OECD outlook suggests Japan will be there in the autumn, and Germany early in the new year. The UK will not catch up until this time next year.”

For more than a year, the Guardian has tracked the economic fallout from the pandemic on a monthly basis, following infection rates, eight key growth indicators and the level of the FTSE 100. Faced with the deepest global recession since the Great Depression, the Covid crisis watch also monitors Britain’s performance compared with other countries.

On our dashboard, figures show the number of workers on UK company payrolls increased in June by 356,000 as employers rushed to hire staff in preparation for the relaxation of lockdown measures on 19 July.

The most popular jobs were in warehouses, transport and delivery roles and customer services.

A mismatch between the skills of people on the unemployment register and a rising number of vacancies meant the number of employees remained more than 200,000 below its level before the pandemic, data from the ONS showed.

Retail sales increased by 0.5% in June, but only after a surge in purchases of food and drink to accompany the European football championships, while house price growth fell in response to the government’s withdrawal of a stamp duty waiver on homes worth less than £500,000.

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