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Virus worry prompts UK households to slash spending: survey

FILE PHOTO: Vegetables are displayed for sale inside a supermarket in London

LONDON (Reuters) - British consumers, worried they will lose jobs and income as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, plan to rein in spending on major purchases to the greatest degree since 2012, according to a survey on Monday.

The IHS Markit Household Finance Index sank in March to a 10-month low of 42.5 from February's record high of 47.6, pulled down by worsening sentiment around job security and spending.

The survey was conducted between March 12 and 17, before finance minister Rishi Sunak unleashed an unprecedented economic stimulus package in which the state will pay a massive share of private sector wages, designed to avert economic collapse as the virus spreads.

Sunak warned job losses were underway already and that more would be on the way, despite the scale of the measures announced.

"People seem rightfully concerned whether or not they will be able to pay their bills in the coming months," Joe Hayes, economist at data IHS Markit, said.

The survey's gauge of workplace activity fell to the lowest level since April 2009, when Britain was still reeling from the financial crisis.

A closely watched gauge of business activity from IHS Markit is due to be published on Tuesday. Economists polled by Reuters expect this will show the most severe contraction underway since early 2009.

(Reporting by Andy Bruce; Editing by Catherine Evans)