April 22, 2024

Labour says Sunak’s promise to grow economy ‘in tatters’ as UK slips into recession

Labour’s shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves has lambasted the government as the UK economy has officially entered a technical recession.

Gross domestic product (GDP) fell by 0.3% in the fourth quarter, following a decline of 0.1% in the previous three months, according to the Office for National Statistics figures released on Thursday morning.

Labour said the announcement shows the prime minister can “no longer credibly claim that his plan is working”, and that “Rishi Sunak’s promise to grow the economy is now in tatters”.

Opposition parties have dubbed it “Rishi’s recession”

(PA Wire)

“This is Rishi Sunak’s recession and the news will be deeply worrying for families and business across Britain,” the shadow chancellor said. “It is time for a change. We need an election now to give the British people the chance to vote for a changed Labour Party that has a long-term plan for more jobs, more investment and cheaper bills. Only Labour has a plan to get Britain’s future back.”

Economists said the recession is likely to be short-lived, with GDP expected to pick up from the start of 2024. But the figures are damning for Mr Sunak, who has vowed to grow the economy as one of his five priorities.

Todays statistics show that GDP per person dropped every quarter of 2023, having now growth since Q1 2022 – making the longest unbroken run without per capita GDP growth since records began.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said the contraction comes off the back of high inflation and the recent run of interest rate rises, but insisted the economy was turning a corner. He said it was the “right thing to do” to prioritise tackling inflation.

The Chancellor told broadcasters: “We always expected growth to be weaker while we prioritised tackling inflation, that means higher interest rates, and that is the right thing to do because you can’t have long-term healthy growth with high inflation.

“The underlying picture here is an economy that is more resilient than most people predicted, inflation is coming down, real wages have been going up now for six months.

“If we stick to our guns, independent forecasters say that by the early summer we could start to see interest rates falling and that will be a very important relief for families with mortgages.”

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt is said to be considering further tax cuts as the economy enters a technical recession and public services face further squeezes

(PA Wire)

On Wednesday the prime minister had insisted the “economy has turned the corner” as he convened the first meeting of his 2024 Business Council.

Mr Sunak made the statement as data, also from the ONS, showed the inflation rate sticking at 4 per cent on the year in January, unchanged from December. Though double the Bank of England’s inflation target, it was better news than expected, after economists predicted an uptick to 4.2 per cent.

Mr Sunak said he was “unashamedly pro-business” as he spoke to chief executives in Downing Street on Wednesday morning.

Addressing the council, the prime minister said he was “determined” to “make the UK the best place in the world to start to grow and invest in businesses”.

The recession puts pressure on the government to reflect on its economic approach, as the Financial Times reported that Mr Hunt is still considering slashing billions of pounds from public spending plans to fund pre-election tax cuts. Mr Hunt is reportedly mulling over reducing projected spending rises to about 0.75 percentage points a year, releasing £5bn-£6bn for tax cuts.

Rachel Reeves said Mr Sunak’s economic plan was in “tatters”

(Getty Images)

Left-leaning think tank Institute for Public Policy Research said the economic recession should be a wake-up call for the government.

Pranesh Narayanan, research fellow at the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) has said the figures underscore the need for public investment, rather than “irresponsible tax cuts”.

“This time last year, the Prime Minister pledged to get the economy growing but today’s data, showing a mild technical recession, shows a stark lack of progress,” Mr Narayana said. “Chronic underinvestment in hospitals, schools, net zero and infrastructure has created a crumbling public realm and a broken economy.

“This should be a wake-up call that spurs the Government to prioritise public investment rather than irresponsible tax cuts. Let’s fix our problems now rather than storing them up for later.”

Official figures released on Wednesday show that UK Inflation has flatlined

(PA Wire)

The New Economics Foundation said it was “no surprise” the UK had fallen into recession, “given this government’s mismanagement of the economy and the Bank of England’s panicked interest rate rises”.

Dry Lydia Prieg, Head of Economics for the organisation said:

“This government’s long standing failure to invest in the economy combined with the Bank of England’s panicked interest rate rises have caused serious damage.

Ordinary people are suffering the effects of these decisions, with low wages and falling standards of living likely to plague us for years.

To combat this we need a drastic change in direction and serious government investment in green industries, public services, housing and skills.”

Asda chairman Lord Rose told BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme: “If it looks like a duck, it quacks like a duck, it walks like a duck, it’s a duck. It’s a recession. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a technical recession or not.”

He added: “I take no pleasure in saying there’s no surprise here. We’ve got a low growth economy or a no growth economy. We’ve got very low productivity. We’ve got very stubborn and persistent inflation, which is still twice to the bank’s target, and we have got 2.9 million people in this country who are economically active and yet we’ve got a tight labour market. It doesn’t add up and we must now find a route to grow the country and we haven’t found that route yet.

“Cutting your way to growth, in my view, as a businessman, is almost impossible.”

Martin McTague, national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), said news of the technical recession “will just confirm what many small firms have been saying for some time now – it’s very tough out there”.

He added: “The Government needs to foster an environment where small firms can grow, to the overall benefit of the economy, and to put this period of stagnation and shrinkage behind us once and for all.”

Joseph Rowntree Foundation chief economist Alfie Stirling said although business investment may be the “lifeblood” of the growing economy, public service and social security investment must “provide the heartbeat”.

He added: “Just weeks before the Budget, addressing this crisis of economic security, from individual families to the nation as a whole, must be the first priority for policymakers. This starts with reforming Universal Credit to reflect the actual cost of essentials, and a revitalisation of key services across care, housing, and job support.

Meanwhile, TUC general secretary Paul Nowak blamed the Conservatives’ “economic failures” for the technical recession:

“The Conservatives’ economic failures are hitting jobs and living standards. With household budgets at breaking point, spending is down and the economy is shrinking. At the same time our crumbling public services are starved of much-needed funding.

He added: “After being in power for 14 years, the Tories have driven our economy into a ditch and have no idea how to get out.

Liberal democrat leader Ed Davey said that “Rishi’s recession” has “savaged the British economy by decimating growth and leaving families to cope with spiraling prices.”

“Years of Conservative chaos and a revolving door of Conservative chancellors has culminated in economic turmoil,” he added. “It’s hardworking Brits forced to pick up the tab for this mess, through high food prices, tax hikes and skyrocketing mortgage bills.”

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