Britain faces the bleakest two years of any major industrial nation with a recession in 2023 and the slowest growth of peers in 2024, the International Monetary Fund predicts.
The UK will be the only Group of Seven member whose economy will shrink this year, with a contraction of 0.6%, the IMF said. That makes Britain’s outlook even worse than sanctions-hit Russia, which is expected to expand by 0.3% after contracting 2.2% in 2022.
The Washington-based institution downgraded its UK outlook by a massive 0.9 percentage points 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 leadup to the next election, which must be held by January 2025. Across the two years, the economy will effectively stagnate — expanding just 0.3%. A recession this year would be the first, excluding the pandemic, since the financial crisis in 2009.
“The governor of the Bank of England recently said that any UK recession this year is likely to be shallower than previously predicted,” Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt said in a statement. “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% — matching Japan and Italy at the bottom of the G-7 league table for growth.
The forecast anticipates the first UK recession, excluding the pandemic, since the financial crisis in 2009. Across the two years leading up to the deadline for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to call an election, the economy will effectively stagnate — expanding just 0.3%.
The IMF did not downgrade any other G-7 economy this year as it raised its global growth forecast from 2.7% to a still sluggish 2.9%. An escalation of the war in Ukraine or a health crisis in China as Covid 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 UK growth is striking because the IMF’s October forecast was prepared before the £45 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% to 3.5%, and markets now expect rates to settle around 4.5%. The IMF said it’s 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 the UK’s massive spending spree — arguing that fiscal and monetary policy should not be working at cross purposes and that the government needed to bring the public finances under control.
IMF Chief Economist Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas repeated the warning. In a blog post alongside the forecast, he said many countries are being too generous with their energy support, which is “costly and increasingly unsustainable.”