Quarter of UK companies have shut down because of coronavirus, ONS survey shows

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A quarter of UK companies have temporarily shut down and more than four in 10 have reduced staff numbers because of the coronavirus crisis, new data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows.

The figures reveal a rapidly worsening outlook for businesses. 0.4 per cent of firms have permanently ceased trading, and those continuing to operate have furloughed an average of 21 per cent of their workforce.

More than 40 per cent of trading businesses said they have reduced staff numbers, and 29 per cent said they have shortened working hours. 

The data comes from a survey of more than 5,000 businesses taken in the fortnight to 5 April.

Separate figures showed the number of people filing claims for universal credit (UC) has risen to 1.4 million since 16 March, a week before the UK's lockdown began. This represents an increase of more than 1.3 million since November 2020, when just 100,000 people were claiming UC.

The Office for Budget Responsibility warned last week that if the lockdown were to continue for three months, then UK unemployment could nearly double, with its scenario suggesting the number of jobless could remain above pre-crisis levels for years to come.

Today’s ONS data also shows worsening financial returns for companies. 54 per cent of businesses continuing to trade reported lower turnover than usual – an increase of 7 per cent on last month.

Only one in 20 companies have reported an increase in turnover, while the remaining 40 per cent have noted no discernible change.

The general loss of income to business is coupled with a rise in the price of high-demand products. Figures collated by the ONS through several online retailers show prices for these products are up by an aggregate of 4 per cent since the lockdown began. General food, however, is down 2 per cent, with the price of rice in particular down 5 per cent.

 Ben Walker is a data journalist at the New Statesman

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