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2020 OECD Economic Surveys: United Kingdom 2020

image of OECD Economic Surveys: United Kingdom 2020

Like many countries, the United Kingdom has been hit severely by the COVID-19 outbreak. A strict lockdown was essential to contain the pandemic but halted activity in many key sectors. While restrictions have eased, the country now faces a prolonged period of disruption to activity and jobs, which risks exacerbating pre-existing weak productivity growth, inequalities, child poverty and regional disparities. On-going measures to prevent a second wave of infections will need to be carefully calibrated to manage the economic impact. The country started from a position of relatively high well-being on many dimensions. But productivity and investment growth have been weak in recent years and an ambitious agenda of reforms will be key to a sustainable recovery. Leaving the EU Single Market, in which the economy is deeply integrated, creates new economic challenges. Decisions made now about management of the COVID-19 crisis and future trade relationships will have a lasting impact on the country’s economic trajectory for the years to come.

SPECIAL FEATURES: COVID-19 CRISIS; EU EXIT; PRODUCTIVITY

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Boosting productivity in the service sectors

The United Kingdom has been among the most affected OECD economies by the COVID-19 crisis, reflecting the high share of services in output and its integration in the world economy. Productivity growth in the United Kingdom has consistently underperformed relative to expectations and was more disappointing than in most other OECD economies since at least the global financial crisis. Sluggish productivity growth in the service sectors was the main factor behind this weak performance. Raising productivity will help to sustain employment and wages but will require a broad range of policies.Keeping low barriers to trade and competition in the UK service sectors will create a supportive environment for strong productivity performance. Prioritising digital infrastructure in the allocation of the planned increase in public investment is expected to bring large productivity dividends. Reviewing the system of support to small firms in the light of the COVID-19 crisis will help to re-prioritise resource towards young innovative firms. Further increasing public spending on training to develop the digital skills of low-qualified workers, which have been particularly affected by the COVID-19 crisis, will be a double-dividend policy, boosting productivity and lowering inequality.

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