GDP: UK economy bounces back from Omicron impact, but outlook deemed 'bleak'

Growth sped up in the UK's economy in January as the impact of Omicron was erased before Russia invaded Ukraine weeks later.

Gross domestic product (GDP) increased by 0.8 per cent over the month, the Office for National Statistics has revealed. It wiped out the 0.2 per cent drop seen in December.

ONS director of economic statistics Darren Morgan said: "GDP bounced back from the hit it took in December due to the Omicron wave and is now 0.8 per cent above its pre-pandemic peak.

"All sectors grew in January, with some industries that were hit particularly hard in December now performing well, including wholesaling, retailing, restaurants and takeaways. Computer programming and film and television production also had a good start to the year.

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"While supply-chain issues persisted in certain sectors, output in both construction and manufacturing grew for the third month running." Experts had been predicting a rise of just 0.1 per cent, according to an average supplied by Pantheon Macroeconomics.

Human health and social work have become a much larger part of the UK's economy since the onset of the pandemic, as have the information and communication and science sectors. Meanwhile, property, accommodation and food and other service activities all continue to suffer.

These changes in the economy could still revert to their pre-pandemic make-up, or they could be permanent. Problems are likely to appear in coming months' data.

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The ONS says some industries that were hit particularly hard in December performed better in January - including restaurants. Picture: Tolga Akmen via Getty Images.

Inflation was already high before Russia invaded Ukraine , and the war will push up prices even further for both people and businesses.

"The UK's economy could stall in the near term as rising inflation, soaring energy bills, and higher taxes increasingly drag on activity, despite a probable boost to output in February from the end of Plan B Covid restrictions," said Suren Thiru, head of economics at the British Chambers of Commerce.

"Russia's invasion of Ukraine has increased the risk of a recession in the UK by exacerbating the already-acute inflationary squeeze on consumers and businesses, and derailing the supply of critical commodities to many sectors of the economy."

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Urging

He added: "We urge the Chancellor to use the upcoming Spring Statement to tackle the cost-of-doing-business crisis by delaying the National Insurance rise and committing to no further policy measures that will increase costs for business for the remainder of this Parliament."

Martin Beck, chief economic advisor to the EY Item Club, said GDP growth this year and next “now looks like being more muted than hoped only a few weeks ago, but geopolitical uncertainty and what, if any, fiscal support will be announced by the Chancellor in the Spring Statement on 23 March mean that economic predictions at present are particularly uncertain”.

Kevin Brown, savings specialist at Scottish Friendly, commented: “The severity of Omicron is perhaps less severe than first thought and with Christmas having passed, households’ initial caution has waned.

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"This is good news for the economy as some experts feared the worst… But with inflation expected to carry on going up over the coming months and ongoing global market volatility, the outlook for the UK economy is bleak.

“How badly [it] suffers may depend on how many households can offset rising prices by drawing on savings and investments or choosing to borrow money.”

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