Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced Britain would be put under lockdown for three weeks on March 23 to stop the spread of coronavirus. However, this week the UK entered its fourth week with strict social distancing measures, and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said during Monday’s daily press conference that although there are some “positive signs” from the data that show “we are starting to win this struggle”, he warned: “We are still not past the peak.”
The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) said on Tuesday Britain’s economy could shrink by 35 percent this spring and unemployment soar by more than 2 million due to the ongoing health crisis the coronavirus has created.
The scenario assumed tight controls would be maintained for three months, followed by a further three months when they are partially lifted, meaning a total of six months of social distancing measures could be on the horizon.
The analysis came as countries around the world attempt to devise exit strategies from lockdown conditions despite a rising global death toll.
The report was published after Mr Raab warned the UK could remain in lockdown for at least another month.
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The OBR said: “The longer the period of economic disruption lasts, the more likely it is that the economy’s future potential output will be scarred.”
OBR says they have not based the report on information given to them from the Government but add there is “credibility” in the independent forecasts.
Downing Street has since responded to the OBR report’s estimations.
Sam Coates, Deputy Political Editor at Sky News, explained how Downing Street responded to the report.
Speaking on Sky News, he said: “No 10 is trying to make clear the OBR report is based on a set of scenarios where Britain will stay in lockdown for three months and then there will be a phased three month withdraw so the period of disruption is basically six months.
“Downing Street and the Treasury are very keen to make clear that this isn’t a scenario that has been given to the OBR, so to discuss the borrowing rate, the unemployment rate, the GDP figures that are the consequence of that OBR model or scenario is inaccurate.
“They want everyone to know that this is not on the basis of the Government giving the OBR any kind of indication of what will happen.
“But they do say that there is a lot of credibility in these independent forecasts.
“They say they have chosen a scenario although, in reality, they will differ a bit, reinforcing the Chancellor’s message that coronavirus will have a significant economic impact.
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“They are also very keen to point out those GDP figures are based on the scenario.
“If you’ve looked at the report it shows a huge dip in GDP, a 35 percent drop in the second quarter but then an enormous bounce back by the end of the year.
“The Treasury is keen to point out that it might not be a lasting economic impact to some parts of Government.”
The OBR scenario sees Government borrowing for 2020/21 climbing by £218bn to £273bn, or 14 percent of GDP.
This is the largest single year deficit since the Second World War.
The report is based on an assessment of the devastating economic impact of the lockdown on tax receipts as well as the additional spending by the government to try to address the crisis.
The financial watchdog said those interventions will support individuals and businesses through the period and boost the availability of finance.
The OBR said: “They should also help to limit any long-term economic ‘scarring’ – for example, due to cancelled business investment, widespread business failures and the unemployed losing contact with the labour market.
“Such scarring would both harm future living standards and increase the structural budget deficit.”
The OBR stressed its figures represented a “scenario rather than a forecast” based on the assumption that people’s movements would be “heavily restricted for three months and would get back to normal over the subsequent three months”.
Responding to the OBR, Chancellor Rishi Sunak said: “Firstly, it’s clear this will have a very significant impact on our economy – as it will for economies around the world. It’s important that we’re honest about that.
“People should know that there is hardship ahead and we won’t be able to protect every job or every business, as I’ve said.
“Second, the report makes clear that the unprecedented actions we’ve taken will help to mitigate the impact of the virus on our economy and that if we hadn’t done these thing it would mean that things were a lot worse, for example the impact on unemployment.”
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