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UK had biggest G7 COVID economic hit, even with data differences - ONS

Andy Bruce
·2-min read
FILE PHOTO: People shop at market stalls, with skyscrapers of the CIty of London financial district seen behind, in London

By Andy Bruce

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain suffered the sharpest economic hit from the COVID-19 pandemic among Group of Seven nations even accounting for big differences in the way government spending is measured, an analysis by the country's statisticians suggested.

Official figures have previously shown that Britain suffered the biggest drop in economic output - adjusted for inflation - in the G7 between the first and third quarters of 2020.

Last month finance minister Rishi Sunak said the way Britain measured its economic output flattered other countries and the country's performance was not the worst among its peers.

On Monday, the Office for National Statistics said some of Britain's slump could indeed be explained by the way the output of government services such as education and healthcare was measured and it was hard to make international comparisons.

"But one helpful approach is to remove volume estimates of government consumption expenditure - this shows that the UK has still experienced the largest contraction but that the relative comparison with the rest of the G7 is not as large."

Britain also suffered the G7's biggest drop in household spending, the ONS said, noting that the country's lockdown restrictions have generally been tighter and were imposed for longer.

The overall economic impact of lockdowns and social distancing may have been greater in Britain because social spending, such as eating out and holidays, is more dominant than in other countries, it said.

Britain has had one of the world's highest COVID-19 mortality rates, another factor seen as weighing on the economy.

In nominal terms - unadjusted for inflation - the collapse in economic output seen in Britain was "broadly comparable" to other G7 countries, and not as bad the drop seen in Canada, Italy or Germany, the ONS said.

However, international comparisons of economic performance are typically measured using inflation-adjusted figures.

The ONS also said the measurement factors which weighed particularly on Britain's economic data during the second quarter of 2020 ought to have been seen in reverse in a rebound in the third quarter.

But that did not fully transpire, with France reporting a bigger upturn that quarter.

Revised data which will be published in the future by Britain and other countries could further alter the picture, the ONS said.

(Reporting by Andy Bruce; Editing by William Schomberg and Alison Wiliams)