The UK Treasury’s number one priority, with support from the Bank of England, must be to get unlimited money swiftly to businesses and individuals who are losing income because of the government’s coronavirus containment measures. This applies both to providing firms with cash to avoid bankruptcy as well as to ensuring that all their staff – employed, self-employed and gig workers – continue to be paid when they go into unpaid quarantine or are laid off either temporarily or permanently.
But however successful the government is in this vital support task, the British economy is already in recession. And the more extensive the lockdowns are, the deeper the immediate falls in economic activity will be. Long before the Covid-19 outbreak many economists had been correctly anticipating another downturn. Britain, like most other advanced industrial countries, has been in a state of precarious sclerosis ever since the stabilisation which followed the financial crisis. Western economies have been producing too little new wealth for decades. They were only functioning as well as they have been by borrowing from the future. Now this precarious, debt-dependent economic life has suffered a sharp and unexpected disruption. The collapse is largely due to a cash crunch.
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