LONDON - Britain faces the bleakest two years of any major industrial nation, with a recession in 2023 and the slowest growth among peers in 2024, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicts.
It will be the only Group of Seven (G-7) member whose economy will shrink this year, with a contraction of 0.6 per cent, the IMF said.
The Washington-based institution downgraded its outlook by a massive 0.9 percentage point from October, saying higher interest rates and taxes along with government spending restraint will exacerbate a cost-of-living crisis.
The forecast highlights the challenges Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s government faces in the lead-up to the next election. Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt suggested the economy is likely to perform better than the IMF expects.
“The governor of the Bank of England recently said that any UK recession this year is likely to be shallower than previously predicted,” said Mr Hunt.
“We are not immune to the pressures hitting nearly all advanced economies. Short-term challenges should not obscure our long-term prospects.”
In 2024, the economy will rebound only slowly, growing at 0.9 per cent – matching Japan and Italy at the bottom of the G-7 league table for growth.
The forecast anticipates the first British recession, excluding the pandemic, since the financial crisis in 2009. Across the two years leading up to the deadline for Mr Sunak to call an election, the economy will effectively stagnate – expanding just 0.3 per cent.
The IMF did not downgrade any other G-7 economy in 2023 as it raised its global growth forecast from 2.7 per cent to a still sluggish 2.9 per cent.
An escalation of the war in Ukraine or a health crisis in China as Covid-19 spreads could set back the world economy, it said in its World Economic Outlook update. However, “adverse risks have moderated since October”.
The downgrade to British growth is striking as the IMF’s October forecast was prepared before the £45 billion (S$73 billion) unfunded tax giveaway in the September budget during the short-lived Liz Truss premiership. At the time, the fund said the fiscal splurge would have boosted growth. Since then, financial conditions have tightened, rising borrowing costs for businesses and households.
The Bank of England has raised rates from 2.25 per cent to 3.5 per cent, and markets now expect rates to settle around 4.5 per cent. The IMF said its downgrade also reflected “tighter fiscal” policy but, according to Treasury figures, fiscal policy is looser this year than at the last forecast.
In October, the IMF attacked Britain’s massive spending spree, arguing that fiscal and monetary policy should not be working at cross purposes and that the government needed to bring public finances under control.
IMF chief economist Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas repeated the warning. In a blog post, he said many countries are being too generous with their energy support, which is “costly and increasingly unsustainable”.
Instead, countries should “adopt targeted measures that conserve fiscal space, allow high energy prices to reduce demand for energy, and avoid overly stimulating the economy”, he added. He urged central banks, like the Bank of England, to press on with rate rises even if it means inflicting more misery on cash-strapped households. The Bank of England is expected to raise rates a half point to 4 per cent on Thursday.
“Where inflation pressures remain too elevated, central banks need to raise real policy rates above the neutral rate and keep them there until underlying inflation is on a decisive declining path,” said Mr Gourinchas.
“Easing too early risks undoing all the gains achieved so far.” BLOOMBERG