The U.K. economy shrank 1.5 percent in the first quarter as the recession increasingly resembled the one that started in 1979 when Margaret Thatcher took power, the National Institute of Economic and Social Research said.
The drop in gross domestic product followed a 1.6 percent decline in the last three months of 2008, Niesr, whose clients include the U.K. Treasury, said in London today. Consumer confidence last month matched the lowest level in at least four years, Nationwide Building Society said in a separate report.
Unemployment is rising at the fastest pace in three decades, pushing Prime Minister Gordon Brown to redouble his efforts to revive economic growth before the next election. The Bank of England will probably keep the benchmark interest rate unchanged at a three-century low of 0.5 percent in its monthly decision tomorrow.
“The output fall so far is very similar to that of the recession that began in the summer of 1979,” Niesr said in a statement. “If the 1980s profile were followed, output would continue to decline for up to another year and it would take two further years before the level of output enjoyed at the start of 2008 would be reached again.”
Niesr still said that there’s no “obvious reason” why the recession will follow the course of the one in the early 1980s.
Thatcher succeeded James Callaghan as U.K. prime minister in May 1979 following the so-called Winter of Discontent, when car workers, truck drivers and trash collectors went on strike.
Unemployment jumped the most since 1971 in February, the government’s statistics office reported March 18. Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc said yesterday it will cut up to 4,500 back office jobs in Britain to save money.
“Feelings about the current labor market have weakened,” Nationwide Chief Economist Fionnuala Early said in a statement. “Further reports of job losses are likely to have affected consumers’ views of this.”
Nationwide’s index of consumer confidence slipped to 41 in March, matching January’s four-year low, from 43 the previous month. Two-thirds of Britons said there are few jobs available, the mortgage lender’s survey showed.
The number of permanent staff appointments by job consultants fell further in March, though at the slowest pace in six months, KPMG and the Recruitment and Employment Federation said in a separate report today.
“The availability of permanent and temporary jobs in the U.K. continues to decline, salaries are being reduced and the pool of available candidates is rising further,” Mike Stevens, a partner at KPMG, said in a statement. “Recovery might take longer and be more protracted than many hope.”
Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling presents his next budget on April 22. Brown, whose governing Labour Party trailed the opposition by 13 percentage points in an April 6 poll, must call an election by mid-2010.
Bank of England Governor Mervyn King last month took the unprecedented step of cutting interest rates close to zero and buying government bonds with newly created money to stimulate the economy. All except two of the 62 economists in a Bloomberg survey predict policy makers will keep the key rate unchanged at 0.5 percent tomorrow.