The Daily Telegraph

UK will dodge recession but middle classes to suffer blow

Relatively upbeat forecast from economic think tank, though millions will feel squeeze to living standards

- By Eir Nolsøe, Howard Mustoe and Hannah Boland

BRITAIN will dodge a recession this year despite a painful slowdown that will hit the middle classes, a think tank has said.

The National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) said Britain will skirt a “technical recession” despite growth slowing to a crawl, as falling gas prices help limit the damage to the economy.

NIESR is the first major forecaster to predict that Britain will avoid a recession, amid growing optimism across Europe that gloomy forecasts for 2023 will not come to pass.

However, households in Britain’s “squeezed middle” will still experience a significan­t hit to living standards, NIESR warned, as inflation and higher interest rates eat into incomes. The middle classes will be nearly £4,000 worse off this year, the think tank said.

“The UK is likely to avoid a ‘technical recession’ in 2023. Though, with GDP growth set to remain close to zero in 2023 and real personal disposable income having contracted for four consecutiv­e quarters, it will certainly feel like a recession for many,” NIESR said.

Inflation is expected to continue to eat into people’s incomes this year, with 80pc of retailers set to increase their prices in 2023, according to research by trade body Retail Economics. Rising prices will add £18bn to the nation’s shopping bill this year despite shoppers being expected to buy fewer items.

Torsten Bell, head of economic think tank the Resolution Foundation, told MPS yesterday that stagnating living standards mean the UK is failing to keep up with neighbouri­ng countries.

“Britain is now well into a phase of relative decline ... middle Britain is now significan­tly poorer than middle France and middle Germany,” he told members of the business select committee. The UK’S high inequality and smaller economy relative to peers such as Germany are dragging down living standards for middle-class and working people, he said.

NIESR said many middle earner families will struggle this year regardless of whether the UK manages to dodge a technical recession. All households have become poorer because of rising inflation, NIESR said, but the poorest have experience­d less of a fall in their real incomes as a result of targeted support through Universal Credit.

Stephen Millard, deputy director of NIESR, said the Government had shielded the poorest households from higher energy costs “but that support ends once you’re earning and into more of the middle-income area”.

NIESR expects the UK economy to grow 0.2pc this year before expanding by 1pc in 2024. However, that is more upbeat than most forecasts who expect a contractio­n in 2023.

The Bank of England has forecast that

‘Britain is now well into a phase of relative decline... Middle Britain is poorer than France and Germany’

the economy will shrink by 1pc in 2023 and the Internatio­nal Monetary Fund has said Britain will be the only major economy to contract this year.

However, despite short-term optimism, NIESR said action was needed to stop long-term stagnation.

Prof Adrian Pabst, deputy director for public policy, said: “To level up the country and reduce household-level inequaliti­es, fiscal policy needs to be targeted, Levelling Up funding needs to be unified and applicatio­ns simplified.

“And government should put in place a long-term public investment strategy that helps to unlock business investment”.

The Resolution Foundation’s Mr Bell told MPS that Britain needed to “stop living in a dreamland of reindustri­alisation” and focus on the services industries, such as banking, as a way to kick-start growth.

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