Coronavirus and the latest indicators for the UK economy and society: 25 February 2021

Early experimental data on the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) on the UK economy and society. These faster indicators are created using rapid response surveys, novel data sources and experimental methods.

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Contact:
Email Issie Davies

Release date:
25 February 2021

Next release:
4 March 2021

1. Main points

Estimates of online job adverts provided by Adzuna are not available for this week's bulletin. Data covering the period since 12 February 2021 will be provided in a future bulletin.

  • According to the indicator derived from the Bank of England's Clearing House Automated Payment System (CHAPS) data, aggregate debit and credit card purchases increased by 3 percentage points in the week to 18 February 2021 to 75% of their February 2020 average, and are up by 10 percentage points from that seen on 14 January 2021, though the series also rose by a similar amount over the comparable period in 2020. See Section 3.

  • According to final results from Wave 24 of the Business Insights and Conditions Survey (BICS), since January 2021 when new lockdown restrictions were imposed, the percentage of businesses currently trading continues to remain low at 72%; a large fall from mid-December when it was 84% but a similar level to July 2020. See Section 4.

  • According to the latest Opinions and Lifestyle Survey (week ending 21 February 2021), of the 92% of adults that reported they had left home in the last seven days, the proportion who shopped for things other than food and medicine increased slightly by 2 percentage points from the previous week to 9%, which has continued to increase steadily over the last four weeks from 5%. See Section 5.

  • According to exactEarth, there was an average of 332 daily ship visits in the week ending 21 February 2021, an increase of 34% from the previous week but still 5% lower than the same period a year ago. See Section 6.

  • According to Springboard, in the week to 20 February 2021, overall retail footfall in the UK was at 38% of its level in the equivalent week of 2020, with footfall at retail parks still substantially higher than that for high streets and shopping centres. See Section 7.

  • According to Companies House, in the week to 19 February 2021, there were 6,087 voluntary dissolution applications, a 13% increase from 5,367 recorded in the previous week; this large increase can in part be attributed to a backlog of paper applications, which were processed in the latest week. See Section 8.

  • According to the Department for Transport (DfT), on Monday 22 February 2021, the volume of all motor vehicle traffic was the highest it has been so far this year, but still 30% below the level seen on the Monday of the first week of February 2020. See Section 9.

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Results presented throughout this bulletin are experimental and may be subject to revision.

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2. Latest indicators at a glance

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3. UK spending on debit and credit cards

These data series are experimental faster indicators for estimating UK spending on credit and debit cards. They track the daily Clearing House Automated Payment System (CHAPS) payments made by credit and debit card payment processors to around 100 major UK retail corporates. These payments are the proceeds of recent credit and debit card transactions made by customers at their stores, both via physical and via online platforms.

More information on the indicator is provided in the accompanying methodology article.

Companies are allocated to one of four categories based on their primary business:

  • "staples" refers to companies that sell essential goods that households need to purchase, such as food and utilities

  • "work-related" refers to companies providing public transport or selling petrol

  • "delayable" refers to companies selling goods whose purchase could be delayed, such as clothing or furnishings

  • "social" refers to spending on travel and eating out

Figure 1 shows changes in the value of CHAPS payments received by large UK corporates from their credit and debit card processors, “merchant acquirers”.

In the week to 18 February 2021, the CHAPS-based indicator of credit and debit card purchases in aggregate increased 3 percentage points from the previous week to 75% of its February 2020 average. This was primarily driven by an increase in card spending on “staples”, which grew by 5 percentage points from the previous week. “Social”, “delayable” and “work-related” spending also saw an increase since the previous week. In the latest week, card spending on “staples” was 111% of its February 2020 average. On the other hand, “delayable”, “social” and “work-related” purchases were 60%, 57% and 64% of levels seen in February 2020, respectively.

Since the substantial fall in spending at the beginning of the year, following the Christmas period, the aggregate CHAPS-based indicator of debit and credit card purchases has gradually increased, with its level in this latest week up by 10 percentage points from that seen on 14 January 2021, though the series also rose by a similar amount over the comparable period in 2020.

The full data time series available for data on UK spending on debit and credit cards can be found in the accompanying dataset.

More about coronavirus

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4. Business impacts and insights

Final results from Wave 24 of the Business Insights and Conditions Survey (BICS) covers the reference period 25 January to 7 February 2021, with a response rate of 26.4% (10,351 responses). The survey was live for the period 8 to 21 February 2021.

These dates should be kept in mind in relation to local and national lockdown measures in place during the reference period and the date when the business responded. All four nations within the UK were subject to lockdowns for the duration of the reference and survey live periods.

For experimental single site weighted regional estimates that have been updated up to Wave 21 (29 December 2020 to 10 January 2021), please see Understanding the business impacts of local and national restrictions: February 2021.

Figure 2: Since January 2021, the percentage of businesses currently trading continues to remain low at 72%, a large fall from mid-December when it was 84% but a similar level to July 2020

Headline indicators from the Business Insights and Conditions Survey (BICS), 25 January to 21 February 2021

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Notes:

  1. Final weighted results, Wave 24 of Office for National Statistics' (ONS') Business Insights and Conditions Survey (BICS).

  2. Businesses were asked for their experiences for the reference period (25 January to 7 February 2021). However, for questions regarding the last two weeks (furlough estimates), businesses may respond from the point of completion of the questionnaire (8 to 21 February 2021).

  3. A detailed description of the weighting methodology and the weights used for each variable is available in Business Insights and Conditions Survey (BICS); preliminary weighted results.

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In early February 2021, 20% of businesses’ workforce were on furlough leave. This equates to approximately 6.5 million people, which has increased from 18% (or approximately 6 million people) in mid-January 2021. These numbers are based on multiplying the BICS weighted furlough proportions by the Inter-Departmental Business Register (IDBR) total annual employment. This will not be consistent with employment estimates from Labour market statistics as these are based on different sources over different time periods but provides an indication of the use of furlough. Additionally, the BICS proportion furloughed does not include the public sector, financial sector and parts of agriculture.

Across all UK industries in Wave 24:

  • 70% of businesses had been trading for more than the last two weeks (unchanged from Wave 23)

  • 2% of businesses had started trading within the last two weeks after a pause in trading (unchanged from Wave 23)

  • 3% of businesses had paused trading but intend to restart in the next two weeks (broadly unchanged from 4% in Wave 23)

  • 22% of businesses had paused trading and do not intend to restart in the next two weeks (broadly unchanged from 21% in Wave 23)

  • 3% of businesses had permanently ceased trading (unchanged from Wave 23)

A comprehensive analysis of the responses from the voluntary fortnightly Business Insights and Conditions Survey (BICS) is available in the Business insights and impact on the UK economy bulletin, published on 25 February 2021.

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5. Social impact of the coronavirus

This section includes some provisional results from the Opinions and Lifestyle Survey (OPN) covering the period 17 February to 21 February 2021. The survey went out to 6,017 adults in Great Britain and had a response rate of 68%. Further information to help understand the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on people, households and communities in Great Britain, will be available in Coronavirus and the social impacts on Great Britain published on 26 February 2021.

Travelling to work

In the week ending 21 February 2021, the proportion of working adults in Great Britain who in the last seven days:

  • travelled to work (either exclusively or in combination with working from home) has increased slightly by 2 percentage points when compared with the previous week to 46%

  • worked exclusively from home has decreased slightly by 2 percentage points from the previous week to 35%

  • neither travelled to work nor worked from home remains broadly unchanged from the previous week at 19%

Shopping

Of the 92% of adults that reported they had left home in the last seven days, the proportion that did so to shop for food and medicine remained unchanged compared with the previous week at 76%.

The proportion of these adults who shopped for things other than food and medicine in the last seven days increased slightly by 2 percentage points from the previous week to 9%; this marks the continuation of a steady increase over the past four weeks from 5%. The low level coincides with the ongoing lockdowns throughout the UK.

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6. Shipping

These shipping indicators are based on counts of all vessels, and cargo and tanker vessels. As discussed in Faster indicators of UK economic activity: shipping, we expect the shipping indicators to be related to the import and export of goods.

In the week ending Sunday 21 February 2021, the seven-day average of all daily shipping visits was 332, a 34% increase from the previous week. This follows the notable decrease in ship visits the week prior. Ship visits are now above pre-Christmas levels, but remain 5% lower than levels seen in the same period last year, with 349 visits recorded in the week ending 23 February 2020. The rise on the previous week can be attributed to activity in five major UK ports: Grimsby and Immingham, Hull, Larne, Dover, and Tees and Hartlepool.

In the week ending Sunday 21 February 2021, the seven-day average of daily cargo ship visits was 109, a return to pre-Christmas levels. Cargo ship visits have seen a 14% increase from the previous week, which can be attributed to activity in the same major UK ports as observed in the headline ships data. Despite this increase, the number of cargo ship visits are 6% below the same period a year ago, with 116 visits recorded.

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7. Footfall

National retail footfall

National footfall figures are supplied by Springboard, a provider of data on customer activity. They measure the following for overall UK retail footfall, as well as by high street, retail park, and shopping centre categories:

  • daily retail footfall as a percentage of its level on the same day of the equivalent week of the previous year; for example, Saturday 20 February 2021 is compared with Saturday 15 February 2020

  • total weekly retail footfall as a percentage of its level in the equivalent week of the prior year; for example, footfall in Week 7 of 2021 is compared with its level in Week 7 of 2020

  • the percentage change in weekly footfall compared with the previous week; for example, Week 7 of 2021 is compared with Week 6 of 2021

  • Springboard's weekly data are defined over a seven-day period running from Sunday to Saturday; Week 7 of 2021 therefore refers to the period Sunday 14 to Saturday 20 February 2021

According to Springboard, in the week ending Saturday 20 February 2021, overall UK retail footfall was at 38% of its level compared with the equivalent week of 2020. This is broadly unchanged from its level in the previous week when the equivalent figure was 39%.

In the same seven-day period footfall at retail parks was at 65% of its level compared with the equivalent week of 2020. This is substantially higher than that for shopping centres and high streets, which were at 28% and 31% of the levels seen in the equivalent week of 2020, respectively.

Week-on-week changes in retail footfall between the weeks ending 13 and 20 February 2021 were mixed across retail locations. Overall footfall rose by 7% between these periods and footfall at UK high streets rose by 11%, whereas it increased by 1% and 4% at retail parks and shopping centres respectively.

Regional retail footfall

Regional footfall figures are also supplied by Springboard and show the volume of overall retail footfall compared with the same day of the equivalent week of the previous year, by UK region.

Daily retail footfall in all regions of the UK remains substantially below its level in the equivalent period of 2020. Compared with other regions of the UK, in the week ending 20 February 2021, the East Midlands, Wales and Northern Ireland saw the weakest footfall when compared with their levels observed on the equivalent day of last year. In contrast, retail footfall was strongest in the South East.

For example, on Saturday 20 February 2021, retail footfall in Northern Ireland was at 28% of its level recorded on the Saturday of the equivalent week of 2020, whereas the corresponding figure for the South East was 44%. Users should note that this comparison has been made using figures for Saturday as this is typically the busiest day of the week for retail locations.

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8. Company incorporations and voluntary dissolution applications

Incorporations

According to Companies House data, in the week to Friday 19 February 2021, there were 15,846 company incorporations in the UK, a decrease from the 16,882 seen in the previous week. This is higher than the number of incorporations seen in the eighth week of both 2019 and 2020, when 13,366 and 13,052 companies were registered respectively. This decrease marks a return to the broadly consistent level recorded since the second week of this year and the continuation of a trend of higher incorporations since the second half of last year.

Voluntary dissolution applications

In the week to Friday 19 February 2021, there were 6,087 voluntary dissolution applications, a 13% increase from 5,367 recorded in the previous week and the highest level seen since the week ending Friday 2 October 2020 when there were 6,198 recorded. This is the first time this year that the number of voluntary dissolution applications has exceeded the levels seen in the same weeks of 2019 and 2020, when there were 6,025 and 5,371 respectively. However, this large weekly increase can be in-part attributed to a backlog of paper applications that were processed in the latest week.

The full data time series available for weekly company incorporations and voluntary dissolution applications can be found in the accompanying dataset.

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9. Roads and traffic camera data

Road traffic in Great Britain

According to Department for Transport (DfT) non-seasonally adjusted road traffic data, on Monday 22 February 2021, the volume of all motor vehicle traffic saw a weekly increase of 2 percentage points to 70% of the level seen on the first week in February 2020. Overall, since the start of lockdown in January, motor vehicle volumes on Monday were the highest so far in 2021, even though they are still below the pre-Christmas levels.

All categories of road traffic showed increases on the previous week’s figures. Light commercial vehicles increased by 3 percentage points to 86% of the level seen on the same day of the first week in February 2020. Whilst cars and heavy goods vehicles (HGV) both increased by 2 percentage points to 63% and 102% of the level seen on the same day of the first week in February 2020, respectively.

The daily DfT estimates are indexed to the first week of February 2020 and the comparison is with the same day of the week. The data provided are useful as an indication of traffic change rather than actual traffic volumes. More information on the methods, quality and economic analysis for these indicators can be found in the methodology article.

Traffic camera activity

Traffic cameras are a valuable source for understanding the level of activity in towns and cities as well as changing patterns of mobility. The UK has thousands of publicly accessible traffic cameras with providers ranging from national agencies to local authorities. Further information on the methodology used to produce these data is available in our methodology article and Data Science Campus blog.

In the accompanying dataset, the following categories are available as non-seasonally adjusted, seasonally adjusted and trend data:

  • cars

  • motorbikes (only available for London and the North East)

  • buses

  • trucks

  • vans

  • pedestrians and cyclists

The categories are available for the following regions, which give a broad coverage across the UK and represent a range of different-sized settlements in urban and rural settings:

Figure 10: In the week ending 21 February 2021, in London average counts of traffic camera activity for all vehicle types except buses increased compared with the previous week

Traffic camera activity in selected areas, daily counts of cars, buses, pedestrians and cyclists, UK, seasonally adjusted, March 2020 to February 2021

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Notes:

  1. The regions shown here were selected to be representative of the regions available.

  2. Traffic camera images capture the appearance of buses, but they give no indication of the number of passengers using public transport.

  3. Note that data for Durham have been excluded because of quality concerns.

  4. Note that due to technical issues from 17 February 2021, the traffic camera values for Greater Manchester have been imputed.

  5. Please also note that Reading had a larger than normal amount of imputation in the latest week (around 40% of the data was imputed from 15 February onwards).

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In London in the latest week (week ending 21 February 2021), average counts of traffic activity for all vehicle types except buses increased when compared with the previous week. Motorbikes saw the largest weekly increase by 15%, whilst pedestrians and cyclists increased by 10%. Buses saw a slight decrease compared with the previous week.

However, counts of all vehicle types in London remain below the levels seen before the first lockdown in March 2020. The vehicle type with the highest proportion of traffic activity when compared with the average level between 11 and 22 March 2020 (pre-lockdown) is motorbikes, at 85%, whereas pedestrians have the lowest volume when compared with the average pre-lockdown level, at 67%.

In Northern Ireland, average counts of all traffic camera activity except pedestrians and cyclists increased when compared with the previous week. Buses saw the largest weekly increase by 3% and vans increased by 2%, whilst pedestrians and cyclists saw a decrease of 11%, compared with the previous week.

In the North East, average counts of all traffic camera activity increased except for trucks, compared with the previous week. Pedestrians and cyclists saw a substantial increase of 20%, counts of cars increased by 13%, whilst trucks saw a decrease in activity by 6% when compared with last week.

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10. Weekly online food and drink basket

A timely indication of weekly online price change for a selection of food and drink products from several large UK retailers has been developed, covering the period 1 June 2020 to 21 February 2021. Details of the methodology used for these indicators can be found in Online price changes methodology. This analysis is experimental and should not be compared with our regular monthly consumer price statistics.

The data time series, weekly growth rates, and contributions to the weekly change for all individual food and drink items, along with sample sizes, are published in a dataset alongside this release.

The overall prices of items in the online food and drink basket was unchanged between the week ending 21 February 2021 and the previous week, with eight categories providing positive contributions to the overall price movement, five providing negative contributions and one making a negligible contribution to the overall movement.

The main downward contributor to the overall price movement was “bread and cereals”, which experienced a 0.9% price fall in the latest week, mainly because of the falling price of breakfast cereal. “Bread and cereals” contributed negative 0.12 percentage points to the weekly change in the overall price level.

The largest upward contributor was “sugar, jam, syrup, chocolate and confectionery”, which contributed positive 0.05 percentage points to the overall price movement. This category saw its price rise by 0.6% in the latest week, following five consecutive weeks of falling prices. This week’s price rise was mostly driven by the rising price of chocolate.

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11. Data

UK spending on credit and debit cards
Dataset | Released 25 February 2021
These data series are experimental faster indicators for monitoring UK retail purchases derived from the Bank of England's Clearing House Automated Payment System (CHAPS) data.

Weekly and daily shipping indicators
Dataset | Released 25 February 2021
The weekly and daily shipping indicators dataset associated with the faster indicators of UK economic activity.

Traffic camera activity
Dataset | Released 25 February 2021
Experimental dataset for busyness indices covering the UK

Online weekly price changes
Dataset | Released 25 February 2021
The online price changes for a selection of food and drink products from several large UK retailers. These data are experimental estimates developed to deliver timely indicators to shed light on changes in prices at online retailers faced by consumers.

Company incorporations and voluntary dissolutions
Dataset | Released 25 February 2021 
Weekly dataset showing the number of Companies House Incorporations and Voluntary Dissolution applications accepted.

Business insights and impact on the UK economy
Dataset | Released 25 February 2021
Responses from the voluntary fortnightly Business Insights and Conditions Survey (BICS), which captures businesses responses on how their turnover, workforce prices, trade and business resilience have been affected in the reference period.

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12. Glossary

Company incorporations   

Incorporations are when a company is added to the Companies House register of limited companies. This can also include where an existing business applies to become a limited company, where it was not one before.  

Faster indicator  

A faster indicator provides insights into economic activity using close-to-real-time big data, administrative data sources, rapid response surveys or Experimental Statistics, which represent useful economic and social concepts.  

Voluntary dissolution applications  

A voluntary dissolution application is when a company applies to begin dissolution proceedings. As such, they effectively chose to be removed from the Companies House register. For a company to be eligible to voluntarily dissolve, it should not have completed any trading activity for a period of three months.

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13. Measuring the data

End of EU exit transition period

As the transition period ends and the UK enters into a new Trade and Cooperation Agreement with the EU, the UK statistical system will continue to produce and publish our wide range of economic and social statistics and analysis. We are committed to continued alignment with the highest international statistical standards, enabling comparability both over time and internationally, and ensuring the general public, statistical users and decision-makers have the data they need to be informed.  

UK regional lockdown restrictions

The following is a summary of coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions in each of the four UK constituent countries between Monday 15 and Monday 22 February 2021.

A full list of national restrictions is available for England from gov.uk, for Scotland from the Scottish Government, for Wales the Welsh Government and for Northern Ireland from nidirect.

Scotland

  • All of mainland Scotland and the Western Isles were under full lockdown restrictions. Orkney and the Shetland Islands were under Level 3 restrictions.

  • All arrivals from outside of the Common Travel Area (UK and Ireland) must self-isolate for 10 days at a managed quarantine hotel.

Wales

  • All of Wales was in Tier 4 lockdown restrictions.

  • Travellers who have been in a red-list country in the last 10 days are not allowed into Wales and must self-isolate for 10 days in a managed quarantine hotel in either England or Scotland.

  • Arrivals from other countries not on the red list must self-isolate for 10 days and undertake testing.

England

  • England was under a full national lockdown.

  • UK and Irish nationals arriving from red-list countries must quarantine at hotels selected by the government; with some exceptions, non-UK and non-Irish nationals are not permitted to travel to the UK from red-list countries.

  • Arrivals from other countries must self-isolate at home for 10 days and are required to present evidence of a negative COVID test before boarding planes.

Northern Ireland

  • Northern Ireland was under a full national lockdown.

  • Arrivals from other countries outside of the Common Travel Area must self-isolate at home for 10 days and are required to present evidence of a negative COVID test before boarding planes.

Detailed information on the data sources, quality and methodology of the different indicators included in this bulletin is available in the Coronavirus and the latest indicators of the UK economy and society methodology.  

We will summarise any crucial updates to the quality or methodology in this section in the future.

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14. Strengths and limitations

Detailed information on the strengths and limitations of the different indicators included in this bulletin is available in the Coronavirus and the latest indicators of the UK economy and society methodology.  

We will summarise any crucial updates or warnings in this section in the future.

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Contact details for this Statistical bulletin

Issie Davies
faster.indicators@ons.gov.uk
Telephone: +44 (0)1633 451583