UK employers and consumers insensitive to the Delta coronavirus variant

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By David Milliken and William Schomberg

LONDON (Reuters) – The number of UK workers on leave fell to a new low last month as employers struggled to fill vacancies and consumers appeared to ignore a further rise in COVID-19 cases, adding signs of recovery as restrictions are lifted.

The UK economy has rebounded in recent months after the record drop in 2020, but some analysts fear growth may be held back by any further increase in coronavirus infections caused by the more contagious Delta variant.

Companies reported that the proportion of staff on leave fell to 5% in the last two weeks of June, from 6% in the first half of the month, the Office for National Statistics said.

Almost a third of workers were put on leave at the height of the employment support program in May 2020. The program is scheduled to end on September 30.

Many companies are reporting difficulties recruiting staff, especially in industries such as the hospitality industry which laid off workers during the pandemic and depended heavily on European Union workers before Britain left the bloc.

The Confederation of Recruitment and Employment said companies were hiring staff at the fastest rate since it started collecting cases in the late 1990s.

Figures from recruiter Adzuna showed the number of online job postings as of July 2 was 35% higher than in February 2020 – before the impact of the pandemic hit Britain – and up 4% from the previous week.

Although COVID-19 cases have reached their highest level since January, the government says it believes the rollout of vaccines will mean there will be fewer hospital admissions and deaths.

He plans to lift most of the remaining restrictions on public events and social distancing in pubs and restaurants on July 19, after a four-week delay intended to allow more vaccinations.

ECONOMY NOT YET RECOVERED

The economy as a whole is not expected to return to its pre-crisis size until late 2021, unlike the much faster recovery in the United States. Spending remains below pre-pandemic levels and peaked earlier this year.

Weekly data from the Bank of England showed consumer spending on credit and debit cards rose 3 percentage points to 96% of their February 2020 level in the week to July 1, although they are below their level a month earlier.

Spending on socialization reached 84% of its pre-pandemic level, down from 80% the week before, but remained the lowest of the four main categories in the data.

A separate survey suggested the British were once again close to the recent spike in confidence seen in May, when some COVID-19 restrictions were lifted. There was a drop in June when cases of the Delta variant increased.

The daily survey, conducted by data firm Morning Consult https://morningconsult.com/2021/07/07/uk-consumer-confidence, showed consumer confidence in Britain to be below levels of before the pandemic but had recovered quickly from the delta’s decline, as it did after detecting cases of an earlier strain of COVID-19.

“The impact of case increases resulting from the Delta variant is very different from the impact of case increases in February 2020,” said John Leer, chief economist at Morning Consult. “It is becoming easier for consumers to shake off the increase in cases by realizing that hospitalizations and deaths are much lower than they were before.”

But consumers in Britain, as elsewhere in Europe, the United States and China, were showing signs of uncertainty about the long-term effects of the pandemic on the economy, which could limit spending growth, Leer said.

(Report by David Milliken, edited by Timothy Heritage)



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