This page provides commentary and charts on the latest changes in the UK economy, using novel and rapid data sources as well as official statistics.
We explain the reasons behind each change as much as possible, although it can be difficult to separate the impacts of different things such as Brexit and COVID-19.
For an overview of our main economic indicators, visit our dashboard.
Latest headlines18 June 2021
- Retail sales fall 1.4% with declines in food and online spending amid easing of coronavirus restrictions
- Retail footfall, eating out, and spending fell in wake of Spring Bank Holiday weekend – but remain strong
- The proportion of the UK workforce on furlough leave is at its lowest level since the coronavirus pandemic began
- April 2021 saw UK’s average house price decrease after reaching a record level in March 2021
- Inflation closest to target since 2019
This page was last updated at 07:00 on 18 June 2021.
Retail sales fall 1.4% with declines in food and online spending amid easing of coronavirus restrictions
18 June 2021
Retail sales volumes fell for the first time between April and May 2021 after three consecutive months of growth, with the largest month-on-month declines among food retailers as hospitality reopened.
The 1.4% fall in overall volumes in Great Britain followed sharp rises in retail sales in April, corresponding with the relaxation of retail restrictions.
Food stores and non-store retailers saw falls in total sales volumes in May of 5.7% and 4.2% respectively as both sectors were affected by the easing of restrictions for hospitality and non-essential retail.
Non-food stores continued to report monthly sales volumes growth of 2.3% in May 2021 following growth of 25.6% in April. It signals the continued recovery of one of the sectors most affected by physical store closures during the coronavirus pandemic.
Online spending decreased by 5.7% between April and May, with all sectors, except food stores, reporting monthly falls in their online sales. Feedback from retailers suggested online sales have been affected by the easing of retail restrictions as consumers returned to physical stores.
This resulted in a decline in the proportion of retail spending online values, which fell to 28.5% from 29.8% in April 2021 – the third consecutive monthly fall in the proportion of online spending.
The proportion of spending online in May was still significantly higher than the 19.9% reported in February 2020 before the impact of the pandemic, and total retail sales in May were 9.1% higher than pre-pandemic (February 2020) levels.
Retail footfall, eating out, and spending fell in wake of Spring Bank Holiday weekend – but remain strong
17 June 2021
In the period following the Spring Bank Holiday weekend, CHAPS-based credit and debit card spending, retail footfall, and the number of seated diners in the UK all fell following notable rises.
In the week to 14 June 2021, the seven-day average estimate of UK seated diners as a proportion of their 2019 level fell by 28 percentage points compared with the previous week’s index.
This is the second consecutive weekly fall and follows the significantly increased activity seen in recent weeks, coinciding with the easing of hospitality restrictions across the UK and the Spring Bank Holiday weekend.
Despite this, the estimate of seated diners remained high in the latest week, at 119% of the level seen in the equivalent week of 2019, according to OpenTable.
Similarly, in the week to 12 June, overall retail footfall in the UK saw a weekly decrease of 7% but was still at 82% of the level seen in the equivalent week of 2019; this is the second highest volume of retail footfall as a proportion of its 2019 level seen so far this year.
In the week to 10 June, the aggregate CHAPS-based indicator of credit and debit card purchases decreased by 7 percentage points from the previous week to 95% of its February 2020 average level.
The proportion of the UK workforce on furlough leave is at its lowest level since the coronavirus pandemic began
17 June 2021
The proportion of businesses’ workforce on furlough leave has fallen to 6.5% in late May 2021, down from 19.9% in late January 2021 and 8.1% in early May 2021 and coinciding with the easing of coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions. This is the lowest recorded proportion recorded since the pandemic began.
The proportion of UK businesses currently trading has remained stable at 87% in early June 2021, the same as in late May 2021 and the highest proportion since comparable estimates began in June 2020. A further 2% of businesses intend to restart trading in the next two weeks according to the Business Insights and Conditions Survey (Wave 32).
In terms of trade, the proportion of currently trading businesses experiencing a challenge in importing and exporting increased from December 2020 until January 2021, to over 50%, and has remained broadly stable since then. A greater proportion of businesses are experiencing challenges in importing than in exporting.
April 2021 saw UK’s average house price decrease after reaching a record level in March 2021
16 June 2021
The UK’s average house price increased by 8.9% over the year to stand at £251,000 in April 2021, down from a peak of £256,000 in March 2021.
The temporary changes to Stamp Duty, Land and Buildings Transaction Tax and Land Transaction Tax may have allowed sellers to request higher prices as buyers’ overall costs are reduced. Because these changes were initially due to conclude at the end of March, it’s likely this inflated last month's figures as buyers rushed to ensure their house purchases were scheduled to complete ahead of this deadline.
Private rental prices paid by tenants in the UK rose by 1.2% in the 12 months to May 2021, unchanged since the 12 months to April 2021. The beginning of 2021 has seen a slowdown in rental price growth, which has been driven by prices in London.
London’s rental price growth in May 2021 (negative 0.1%) is lower than any other English region. This may reflect both a decrease in demand, such as remote working shifting housing preferences meaning workers no longer need to be close to their offices, and an increase in supply, such as an excess supply of rental properties as short-term lets change to long-term lets.
Inflation closest to target since 2019
16 June 2021
Consumer prices rose by 2.1% in the 12 months to May 2021, according to CPIH and CPI. The last time this was higher was 2018.
Rising prices for transport, clothing, recreation and culture exerted upward pressure on prices in the CPIH and CPI 12-month inflation rates, between April and May 2021. However, this was partially offset by reductions in the prices of food and non-alcoholic beverages.
The Office for National Statistics’ (ONS) blog Beware Base Effects describes how relatively low prices for some items during 2020 influence current inflation rates.
Due to the easing of public health restrictions, the number of items in CPIH that were identified as unavailable was 27, accounting for 3.1% of the basket by weight. The unavailable items include items such as foreign holidays, international travel and cultural services. The number of unavailable items is down 1 from April and lower than the 72 items that were unavailable under November restrictions. Information on how the ONS has continued to produce consumer price statistics during the pandemic.
There is a decrease in the unemployment rate and the employment rate has increased
15 June 2021
Early estimates for May 2021 indicate that there were 28.5 million payrolled employees. The number of payrolled employees has increased for the sixth consecutive month but remains 553,000 below pre-pandemic levels. Since February 2020, the largest falls in payrolled employment have been in the accommodation and food services sector among those aged 25 years and under and those living in London.
Following a period of employment growth and low unemployment, since the start of the pandemic employment has generally been decreasing and unemployment increasing. However, the latest estimates for February to April 2021, from our Labour Force Survey, continue to show signs of recovery, with a quarterly increase in the employment rate.
February to April 2021 estimates show a quarterly decrease in the unemployment rate, while the employment rate increased and the economic inactivity rate was largely unchanged
UK employment, unemployment and economic inactivity rates, seasonally adjusted, between February to April 2006 and February to April 2021
With the relaxation of many coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions, total hours worked increased on the quarter, however it’s still below pre-pandemic levels. The redundancy rate decreased on the quarter and is now similar to pre-pandemic levels.
The number of job vacancies in March to May 2021 was 758,000, only 27,000 below the level before the coronavirus pandemic in January to March 2020 with most industries recovering to show vacancies above pre-pandemic levels.