Covid response pushes UK government borrowing to highest level since second world war

Coronavirus forced Britain’s government to borrow more than at any time since the second world war, the Office for National Statistics said as it published the first provisional estimates of the public finances for the 2020-21 financial year.

The UK government borrowed £303.1bn in the year ending in March, the ONS said, an increase of £246.1bn on the previous year when borrowing was only £57.1bn.

This meant that the government borrowed 14.5 per cent of the value of everything produced in the UK economy last year, a figure that was last higher at the end of the second world war when it borrowed 15.2 per cent.

The deficit figures will rise from this point as the ONS has not yet included expected losses on the government’s Covid-19 business lending programmes.

Despite the historically high levels of borrowing, raising the UK’s total accumulated public debt to 97.7 per cent of gross domestic product, the highest level since the early 1960s, the figures have been better than feared since the summer of last year.

The ONS said the figures were better than the Office for Budget Responsibility’s equivalent forecast of £327.4bn in the March Budget, also excluding expected losses on lending programmes.


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