One year after lockdown: Nine ways Covid changed the UK

On 16 March 2020 UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson told people to work from home and stop going to the pub to try and stop the spread of coronavirus.

A week later on 23 March the UK entered its first national lockdown.

One year on, the true cost of the coronavirus pandemic for the UK is clear to see.

In a 15 March report, the Office for National Statistics set out a series of sobering data points detailing the effect the pandemic has had on the nation’s health and wealth.

1) Covid-19 caused more deaths in 2020 than other infectious diseases caused for over a century

More than 140,000 people have died in the UK with Covid-19 mentioned as the underlying cause or a contributory cause on their death certificates since the pandemic began.

This includes more than 73,500 people in England and Wales whose deaths were due to Covid-19 — where it was the underlying cause — registered in 2020.

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This means Covid-19 was the underlying cause of more deaths in 2020 than any other infectious diseases had caused in any year since 1918 when the UK was in the grip of the deadly Spanish influenza epidemic which killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide.

That year there were just over 89,900 deaths from infectious diseases registered in England and Wales.

2) The number of adults in critical care in hospitals was far higher than in previous winters

The number of adults in critical care beds during the winter of 2020-21 was far higher than the average of previous winters.

In the last week of January 2021, more than 5,000 adult critical care beds a day were occupied in hospitals in England, compared with around 3,000 a day in the same week in 2020.

The number of patients in critical care decreased in February, but it was still higher than any February over the previous decade.

3) Weekly hours worked dropped significantly in lockdown compared with previous years

The average number of hours worked in the UK per person fell to 25.9 in April to June 2020, compared with 32.3 in the same period in 2019. By October to December 2020, average weekly hours worked were still down 7% overall on the same period of 2019.

The City was minimally affected with hours worked in financial, insurance and real estate services in April to June 2020 down 6% on the same period of 2019.

By contrast, hours worked in the accommodation and food services industries fell 54% in April to June 2020, with 13 hours per worker on average compared with 28.4 in the same three months of 2019.

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4) The fall in job vacancies during 2020 was bigger than the 2008 economic downturn

UK job vacancies fell sharply as the country entered lockdown after 23 March 2020.

The ONS vacancy survey dating from the great financial crisis showed vacancies fell 38%, from 701,000 in January to March 2008 to a low of 432,000 in April to June 2009 before rising again.

Last year vacancies fell 57% from 802,000 in October to December 2019, to a low of 343,000 in April to June 2020 during the first lockdown. By October to December 2020, the number of vacancies had risen to 590,000, down 26% on the same three months of 2019.

5) Debt as a percentage of the economy has reached levels last seen in the early 1960s

The government’s financial splurge on the furlough scheme, support for business and the rollout of Covid-19 testing and vaccines has sent public sector debt soaring. This spending combined with reduced tax receipts and a fall in gross domestic product, pushed public sector net debt as a percentage of the economy to levels last seen in the early 1960s.

At the end of January 2021 public sector net debt – excluding public sector banks – was 97.9% of GDP.

6) The value of imports and exports fell more during the first three months of the pandemic than during the 2008 and 2009 economic downturn

The value of UK exports fell 22.5% year-on-year from £170.4bn in the three months ending July 2019, to £132.1bn in the same three months of 2020, while imports fell 26.1% from £176.8bn to £130.7bn.

This compared with an 8.8% year-on-year fall in the value of exports and 12.2% fall in the value of imports in the three months to July 2009 compared with the same three months of 2008, during the economic downturn.

7) During 2020 average house prices increased while the economy shrank

The average UK house price reached a record high of £252,000 in December 2020 — an increase of 8.5% over the year.

In contrast, during the 2008 and 2009 economic slowdown house prices fell alongside GDP year on year.

The ONS said the differing impact of the two downturns on house prices reflect their underlying causes.

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The fall in UK house prices in 2008 and 2009 reflected a tightening of credit following a crash in the US housing market which hit the global financial sector hard.

The fall in GDP in 2020 primarily reflected a lack of opportunities to spend caused by lockdown restrictions.

Additionally, government support schemes helped stimulate the housing market. Stamp Duty was suspended on the first £500,000 of all property sales in England and Northern Ireland from July 2020 until the end of June 2021 for example.

8) Fear of unemployment rose sharply while people’s expectations of their financial situation fell at its fastest rate on record

People’s expectations for unemployment to increase reached the highest level in over eight years at the start of the first UK lockdown.

Expectations increased by 30 points (17.8 in March to 47.8 in April), followed by a further rise in May 2020 (49.4), based on the scores in the Eurobarometer Consumer Survey.

The previous highest was in January 2012 (49.6) which followed the peak of unemployment following the 2008 and 2009 economic downturns.

People’s expectations of their financial situation for the next 12 months fell at the fastest rate since records began, down from 1.5 in the month up to March 2020 to negative 9.9 in April 2020.

9) Recorded crime fell during the first lockdown but some offences saw an increase

The first lockdown saw recorded crime in England and Wales fall 19% with 1.25 million offences in the three months to June 2020 compared with 1.53 million in the same three months of 2019.

The year ending September 2020 saw a 6% decrease in recorded crime on the previous year.

There was a 74% drop year on year in recorded theft from the person in the three months to June 2020, a 47% drop in robberies and 51% drop in shoplifting.

This reflected reduced opportunities for these crimes with people spending time at home and the closure of the night-time economy.

In contrast, there was a 32% rise in possession of drugs offences recorded in April to June 2020 compared with the same three months of 2019 and a 24% rise in the trafficking of drugs.

Stalking and harassment offences increased by 20% from around 118,500 in April to June 2019 to around 142,000 in April to June 2020.

To contact the author of this story with feedback or news, email James Booth

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