UK consumer confidence rises to highest since lockdown – GfK

FILE PHOTO: Shoppers walk past social distancing signs at the Covent Garden shopping and dining district, amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in London, Britain, August 2, 2020. REUTERS/Toby Melville/File Photo

LONDON (Reuters) – British consumer confidence ticked up in September to its highest level since the coronavirus lockdown started in March, but it remains well below its pre-pandemic levels, a survey showed on Friday.

The GfK Consumer Confidence Barometer rose unexpectedly to -25 in September from -27 in August. A Reuters poll of economists had pointed to an unchanged reading.

The survey was conducted in the first half of the month – before Tuesday’s announcement of new social restrictions to curb a resurgence of the COVID-19 pandemic across the United Kingdom.

“Only an unbridled optimist will bet on confidence climbing further,” said Joe Staton, client strategy director at GfK, which surveyed 2,000 people between Sept. 1 and Sept. 14 for the European Union.

Despite subdued confidence surveys, consumer spending in Britain has rebounded strongly since the initial shock of the lockdown in April, and retail sales are now higher than before the pandemic.

But the prospect of rising unemployment makes many economists cautious, especially since finance minister Rishi Sunak confirmed on Thursday that support for furloughed workers would be scaled back sharp from November onwards.

Sunak said the government was only willing to continue to subsidise workers whose jobs would be viable in the long-term, and that others would need to find new work.

The Recruitment and Employment Confederation said nearly 129,000 job postings were published last week, the highest number since lockdown started.

“Importantly, Tuesday’s (coronavirus) announcements did not close down significant parts of our economy, so we can hope that the trend of improvement we have seen over the summer persists,” said REC chief executive Neil Carberry.

Reporting by Andy Bruce, editing by David Milliken

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