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.

This page was last updated at 09:30 on 25 November 2021.

Crisps lowest in shelf availability, beer highest in shelf availability

25 November 2021

Nearly a quarter (24%) of crisp multipacks were recorded as having a shelf availability of “low” or “none”, while 74% of beers were recorded as having “high” shelf availability.

In data from Kantar Public, the proportion of items recorded as having “high” availability between 19 and 22 November 2021 was 54%; this was similar to the previous four-day period (12 to 15 November 2021).

The proportion of items recorded as having an availability of “low” or “none” was 9%; this was also similar to the previous four-day period.

This data is based on visits to 275 shops to measure the availability of items on shelves.

Item availability in shops was recorded using four categories: "none", "low", "medium", and "high". The second-largest proportion of items recorded as having “high” availability were potatoes at 66%.

The second-largest proportion of items recorded as having either “none” or “low” availability was paracetamol at 18%.

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Record low in young unemployed people

25 November 2021

Of young people in the UK not in education, employment or training (NEET), a record low number are unemployed.

Survey data of people aged 16 to 24 years show an estimated 269,000 young people were NEET and looking for and available for work in the period from July to September 2021.

There were also record lows for the number of young men who were NEET and unemployed (163,000) and the number of young people aged 18 to 24 years old in the same category (255,000).

Young people are classed as unemployed when they are looking for and available for work. Those who were either not looking for work or not available for work were classified as ‘economically inactive’.

At the same time as this decrease in ‘NEET and unemployed’, there was a record quarterly increase of 70,000 in the number of young people in the UK who were ‘NEET and economically inactive’, currently estimated to be 421,000.

Overall, around 10% of all young people aged 16 to 24 were NEET in the three months to September 2021. Read the latest bulletin on Young people not in education, employment or training (NEET).

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Loss of travel during pandemic drives UK trade in services fall

22 November 2021

UK trade in services remains significantly below pre-coronavirus (COVID-19) levels, largely driven by a decline in travel services.

Global trade in services continues to be subdued by the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on travel and global supply chains.

Businesses are also facing some impacts from the change in trading rules following EU exit earlier this year, although it is still too early to reach a conclusion about longer-term impacts on UK trade.

In Quarter 2 (April to June) 2021, total imports and exports were down 29.3% and 14.2% respectively, when compared with the same quarter in 2019.

UK trade in services remains significantly below pre-pandemic levels

Exports and imports of services, EU, and non-EU, Quarter 1 (January to March) 2016 to Quarter 2 (April to June) 2021

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Download the data for UK exports and imports of services, EU, and non-EU (XLSX, 15KB)

Weaker travel services was the main driver of the fall in services trade; total exports of travel services declined £6.9 billion (negative 66.8%) and imports £11.1 billion (negative 80.6%) in Quarter 2 2021 compared with Quarter 2 2019.

Although trade in services values are still below those before the pandemic, overall exports and imports of services have both risen slightly in Quarter 2 2021 (2.1% and 3.8% respectively compared with the previous quarter), with trade to the EU increasing by more than non-EU trade.

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October public sector borrowing is still £7 billion higher than pre-coronavirus

19 November 2021

In October 2021, the UK public sector borrowed £18.8 billion, the second highest October borrowing on record.

Although this was £0.2 billion less than the £19.0 billion borrowed in October 2020, it is still £7.2 billion more than that of pre-coronavirus (COVID-19) October 2019.

Initial estimates of central government receipts for October 2021 were £65.5 billion, including £44.2 billion in tax receipts: up £3.8 billion compared with October 2020.

Over the same period, central government bodies are estimated to have spent £71.9 billion on their day-to-day activities, including on:

  • providing services and grants (for example, related to education, defence, and health and social care)
  • payment of social benefits (such as pensions, unemployment payments, Child Benefit and Statutory Maternity Pay)
  • payment of the interest on the government’s outstanding debt

In the financial year to October 2021, the UK public sector borrowed £127.3 billion, £103.4 billion less than in the same seven-month period a year ago. ​Much of this improvement is because central government tax receipts have grown by 20%, while departmental day-to-day expenditure has fallen by 5% compared with a year earlier.

Borrowing in the financial year ending March 2021 is now estimated at 15.1% of gross domestic product (GDP), the highest borrowing to GDP ratio since the end of World War Two when in the financial year ending March 1946 it was at 15.2%.

The substantial increase in borrowing over the coronavirus period has led to a sharp increase in public sector net debt. Having peaked at 95.8% of GDP in December 2020, the UK public sector net debt to GDP ratio now stands at 95.1%, maintaining levels not seen since the early 1960s.

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Retail sales volumes have increased for the first time since April 2021

19 November 2021

In October 2021, retail sales volumes increased for the first time since April 2021, when non-essential retail reopened. This increase was driven by non-food stores, such as second-hand goods stores and clothing stores, which were possibly boosted by early Christmas shopping.

UK retail sales volumes increased by 0.8% in October compared with the previous month and were 5.8% higher than pre-coronavirus (COVID-19) levels (February 2020).

Non-food stores was the only main retail sector that saw a rise in sales volumes, increasing by 4.2% in October 2021, and was 4.4% above its pre-coronavirus levels in February 2020. Within this sector, clothing stores reported an increase in sales volumes of 6.2% over the month, with feedback from retailers suggesting that early Christmas shopping had boosted sales.

Sales volumes in food stores fell by 0.3% but were 3.4% above pre-coronavirus levels.

Automotive fuel sales volumes fell by 6.4%, returning to more typical recent levels following strong growth in September; volumes were still 5.0% below February 2020 levels.

Online spending decreased in October by 0.6% from the previous month. This resulted in a fall in the proportion of online sales to 27.3% in October 2021, its lowest proportion since March 2020 (22.5%) but still substantially higher than the 19.7% in February 2020 before the coronavirus pandemic.

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Half of businesses report that their workforce has returned to their normal place of work

18 November 2021

Half (50%) of UK businesses that had not permanently stopped trading reported their workforce had returned to their normal place of work in early November 2021. This has increased from 34% in early September 2021 and from 20% in late April 2021.

Industries with the highest proportion of businesses reporting their workforce had returned to their normal place of work were accommodation and food service activities (75%) and arts, entertainment and recreation (67%).

More than one in six (18%) businesses that had not permanently stopped trading reported that they intend to use increased homeworking as a permanent businesses model. In contrast, 35% reported they would not be using increased homeworking as a permanent businesses model, down from 40% in early October and down from a peak of 68% in late November 2020.

The information and communication industry reported the highest percentage of all businesses intending to use increased homeworking as a permanent business model (51%), while the other service activities industry reported the highest percentage of businesses who were not intending to do so (65%).

Further breakdowns including industry and all other options for working from home questions are available in the Business insights and impact on the UK economy accompanying dataset.

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