A (further) review of recent UK growth numbers

The latest preliminary GDP estimates for 2013 Q3 suggest that the economy’s output (real GDP) expanded by 0.8 per cent following on the back of a 0.7 per cent increase in Q2. Growth was observed across the main industrial sectors with the important service sector growing by 0.7 per cent. While the output of the service sector is now 0.5 per cent higher than its 2008 Q1 peak, the total output of the economy remains 2.6 per cent below its 2008 Q1 peak.

The volatility of growth underpins the idea of business cycles and on occasions results in recessions. Today’s release needs to be set in the context of this volatility and in the context of 2008/9 recession which saw output fall by 7.2 per cent. UK output peaked in 2008 Q1 (£392.786 billion at 2010 prices). There then followed 6 quarters during which output declined.

Output declined again in 2010 Q4 (–0.2% growth) and again in 2011 Q4 (–0.1% growth). The estimates of real GDP for 2011 Q4 and 2012 Q1 are identical at £376.462 billion (at 2010 prices). Previous revisions have seen the 2012 Q1 growth number revised up so that a further recession resulting in a double-dip recession no longer appears in the figures.

While output is now portrayed as (very) flat in 2012 Q1, it did fall again in 2012 Q2 (–0.5 per cent growth) and in 2012 Q4 (–0.3 per cent growth). Moving forward in time, the latest ONS numbers show an economy that grew by 0.4 per cent in 2013 Q1 (to £377.301 billion at 2010 prices), by 0.7 per cent in 2013 Q2 (to £379.780 billion at 2010 prices) and by 0.8 per cent in 2013 Q3 billion (to £382.818 billion at 2010 prices). Compared with 2012 Q3, the output of the UK economy in 2013 Q2 is 1.5 per cent higher.

Chart 1 helps to put the recent growth numbers into an historical context. It shows the quarterly change in real GDP since the 1980s. From it, we can see the 5-quarter recession that commenced in 1980 Q1 when output shrunk by 4.6 per cent, the 5-quarter recession that commenced in 1990 Q3 when output shrank by 2.4 per cent and the 6-quarter recession that commenced in 2008 Q2 when output shrank by 7.2 per cent. (Click here to download a PowerPoint of the chart.)

Chart 2 scratches a little below the surface by looking at output by the four principal industrial types. The interesting finding is that the output of the service sector has now risen above its 2008 Q1 peak. In 2013 Q3 output is 0.5 per cent larger. By contrast, the other three sectors remain smaller than in 2008 Q1. Agriculture, forestry and fisheries is 5.9 per cent smaller, construction 14.3 per cent smaller and production (including manufacturing) is 14.6 per cent smaller. (Click here to download a PowerPoint of the chart.)

With today’s release, quarterly growth now averages –0.11 per cent since 2008 Q2. If we take the series back to the mid 1950s when it began, the average quarterly rate of growth is 0.64 per cent which is equivalent to an annual rate of increase of 2.57 per cent. While today’s news is encouraging it remains important to keep it in perspective and to ensure that growth is sustainable and built on firm foundations.


Preliminary Estimate of GDP – Time Series Dataset Q3 2013 Office for National Statistics
Gross Domestic Product Preliminary Estimate, Q3 2013 Office for National Statistics

New Articles
UK economy grows by 0.8% – the fastest pace in three years Guardian, Larry Elliott (25/10/13)
UK economy grew by 0.8% in third quarter Independent, Nick Renaud-Komiya (25/10/13)
UK GDP: fastest growth for three years BBC News (25/10/13)
UK economy grows by 0.8pc in third quarter Telegraph, Szu Ping Chu (25/10/13)
UK Economy: GDP Growth Accelerates To 0.8% Sky News (25/10/13)

Previous Articles
GDP grows 0.7% as UK economy shows steady recovery Guardian, Phillip Inman (26/9/13)
Hopes of economic recovery take double blow as GDP remains at 0.7% Independent, Russell Lynch (26/9/13)
UK economic growth confirmed at 0.7% BBC News (26/9/13)
IMF cuts global growth outlook but raises UK forecast BBC News (9/10/13)
Good news as IMF upgrades UK’s growth forecast Independent, Ben Chu (8/10/13)
Economy: IMF Makes UK Growth Forecast U-Turn Sky News (8/10/13)


  1. What is the difference between nominal and real GDP? Which of these helps to track changes in economic output?
  2. Looking at Chart 1 above, summarise the key patterns in real GDP since the 1980s.
  3. What is a recession? What is a double-dip recession?
  4. What are some of the problems with the traditional definition of a recession?
  5. Explain the arguments for and against the proposition that the UK has recently experienced a double-dip recession.
  6. Can a recession occur if nominal GDP is actually rising? Explain your answer.
  7. What factors might result in economic growth being so variable?
  8. What factors might explain the very different patterns seen since the late 2000s in the volume of output of the 4 main industrial sectors?
  9. Produce a short briefing paper exploring the prospects for economic growth in the UK over the next 12 to 18 months.