Behind the numbers of the UK economy


Twenty six million pounds is the difference between a "double-dip" recession and a normal one.

If you're confused by the various figures that are being thrown around, you're not the only one. And once you throw in revisions to data, it's hard to even know whether we were in a double-dip recession. What is clear is that the overall picture is that of a stagnant economy where even a small change can make all the difference.

So, this is what happened. A recession as defined by economists is two consecutive quarters of negative growth. A "double-dip" recession is when there is a second set of two consecutive quarters of negative growth before the economy recovers to where it was before the recession.

The Office for National Statistics revised up the GDP estimate for the first quarter of 2012 to "flat" from negative, so they say that there were now not two consecutive negative quarters of GDP. So, no double-dip recession.

Well, that's not entirely the case if you really want to split hairs. Output fell by £26m in the first quarter of 2012 from the end of 2011. So, GDP for that quarter was £376.436bn, a fall of £26m from £376.462bn. Technically, it's a fall of -0.0069%. But, if you round it to one decimal place, which is normal practice for this type of official statistic, then output is flat.

GDP (£ millions) Change

2011 Q1












2012 Q1












2013 Q1



So, £26m or -0.0017% of UK output is the difference between a normal and a double-dip recession. For those of you thinking that if only one of those ultra-expensive multi-million houses had been sold in the first quarter of 2012, then this wouldn't even be under discussion, you'd be right.

And, if this is all a bit technical, that's absolutely right.

Clearly, the more important point and the most worrying is that the recession is deeper than before and we are deeper in the hole than before.

The UK economy has lost 7.2% of output from peak-to-trough in this recession versus the prior estimate of just under 7%. And, we have yet to recover 3.9% of that output versus the prior estimate of 2.6%.

ONS revisions allow for 0.2 percentage points of estimation error. That means that their estimates move around by 0.2%. This means that it may not be the end of the debate over if the UK has double dipped or not.

With a zigzag pattern of alternating positive and negative quarters of GDP, it's not surprising if we continue to "dip" in and out of negative territory.

Linda Yueh Article written by Linda Yueh Linda Yueh Chief business correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    So we only avoided a double-dip recession because they rounded up a negative figure to make it zero. Time not to run out the bunting then.
    I'm still not sure whether it's best to take the optimistic atiitude to try and boost confidence the economy, or be realistic and make sure we don't delude ourselves on how bad things really are.

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    Linda, thanks for the data, perspective on other analysis of significance. Many need reminding. Just as 'not natural' for any able individual to avoid or be denied offers of work, so it 'takes some explaining', five years on from 'the shock', we have yet to re-group & find or make work 'for growth' as a nation. The 2008 response to emergency was barely adequate. In 2010, we jumped from pan to fire

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    Things should be better now that Britain is making things again....

    ....but only work is in the finacial sector where they make recessions....

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    Thanks Linda I am always astounded by how you can take something we all know and while sounding really intelligent, tell us all about it.

    By the way, no chinese story today, is it a bank holiday in Beijing?

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    The double dip argument is everything that is wrong with modern politics with the desire to avoid a negative headline more important than realising nothing is changing and arguing over a decimal place and rounding, with each side saying it proves their point and ideology.

    If the margins are that small it doesn't prove anything.


Comments 5 of 76


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