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Government borrowing hits £55.2bn in May to cope with Covid-19 economic fallout

The Office for National Statistics said the UK’s debt pile of £1.95 trillion is at levels not seen since 1963.

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Public sector borrowing – excluding banks owned by the state – was nearly nine times higher than the levels in May 2019 (PA)

Public sector borrowing – excluding banks owned by the state – was nearly nine times higher than the levels in May 2019 (PA)

Public sector borrowing – excluding banks owned by the state – was nearly nine times higher than the levels in May 2019 (PA)

Government borrowing surged to a new record high in May, hitting £55.2 billion and beating the newly revised £48.5 billion for April, following heavy spending in the face of coronavirus, according to new figures.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) added that public sector borrowing – excluding banks owned by the state – was nearly nine times higher than the levels in May 2019.

It means the UK’s debt mountain has also now grown to more than the entire country’s output – gross domestic product – for the first time since 1963, officials added, to £1.95 trillion or 100.9% of GDP.

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(PA Graphics)

(PA Graphics)

Press Association Images

(PA Graphics)

Prime Minister Boris Johnson predicted the fiscal results meant a “painful” recovery ahead.

April was previously thought to be the all-time highest borrowing month since records began in 1993, coming in at £62.1 billion, but officials on Friday revised this down by £13.6 billion due to larger-than-expected tax and national insurance contributions and lower costs associated with the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

The furlough scheme is expected to cost the Treasury £60 billion by the time it closes in October, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR).

Borrowing in the current financial year-to-date, which is April and May, is estimated to have been £103.7 billion – up £87 billion on the same period a year ago and the highest two-month period on record.

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(PA Graphics)

(PA Graphics)

Press Association Images

(PA Graphics)

The OBR has previously predicted last month that borrowing for the entire year is expected to hit £298.4 billion.

All the extra borrowing means debt at the end of May was £1.95 trillion, up £173.2 billion, or 20.5 percentage points, compared with the same month a year ago.

The amount of cash needed by the Government in May was also a record high at £62.7 billion, with £126.2 billion required in just April and May combined, the ONS added.

Interest payments on the debts were £3.3 billion in May, up £0.2 billion from May 2019 as the amounts are linked to inflation.

The increase in borrowing came because central Government receipts fell 28.4% compared to May a year ago, at £40.7 billion, including £28.9 billion in taxes.

Value Added Tax (VAT), Pay As You Earn (PAYE) Income Tax and Corporation Tax receipts fell by 46%, 29.4% and 14% respectively, the ONS said, although officials were keen to stress the numbers could change when actual cash data is received.

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Data showing the speed of borrowing during the coronavirus crisis. (ONS / PA)

Data showing the speed of borrowing during the coronavirus crisis. (ONS / PA)

Data showing the speed of borrowing during the coronavirus crisis. (ONS / PA)

Mr Johnson, asked about the debt levels during a visit to a school in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, said: “There has been a massive lack of economic activity for a very long time – of course that is going to be a painful and expensive to make up.

“But we are a very creative and dynamic society, we will come back.”

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said: “Today’s figures confirm that coronavirus is having a severe impact on our public finances.

“The best way to restore our public finances to a more sustainable footing is to safely reopen our economy so people can return to work.

“We’ve set out our plan to do this in a gradual and safe fashion, including reopening high streets across the country this week, as we kickstart our economic recovery.”

PA