UK retail sales record surprise 1.4% jump

Government under pressure to act to reduce effects of cost-of-living crisis

Shoppers on Oxford Street in London. Retail sales showed a surprise increase in April. Bloomberg
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British retail sales jumped unexpectedly in April, official data showed on Friday, but the outlook for consumer spending stayed resolutely downbeat as the cost-of-living crunch intensifies.

Retail sales in the UK rose by 1.4 per cent for the month while the drop in sales in March was lower than previously thought, at 1.2 per cent, the Office for National Statistics said.

The April rise was in part driven by an increase in the amount that people bought from food shops, which rose by 2.8 per cent.

Sales for non-food shops dropped by 0.6 per cent in April, the ONS said.

Economists polled by Reuters had expected a 0.2 per cent monthly fall in April retail sales.

ONS deputy director for surveys and economic indicators, Heather Bovill, said: “Retail sales picked up in April after last month’s fall. However, these figures still show a continued longer-term downward trend.

“April’s rise was driven by an increase in supermarket sales, led by alcohol and tobacco and sweet treats, with off-licences also reporting a boost, possibly due to people staying in more to save money.”

Retail sales in the three months to April fell 0.3 per cent, after a 0.7 per cent drop in March.

The wider picture, however, remains weak.

The UK's rate of inflation increased at its fastest rate on record last month in a clear demonstration of the cost-of-living crisis.

The Consumer Prices Index inflation increased to 9 per cent in April from 7 per cent in March, the ONS said.

It was the fastest measured rate increase since official records began in 1989, and the ONS estimates it was the highest level since 1982.

Separately on Friday, Britain's longest-running gauge of consumer confidence, the GfK survey, fell to its lowest since records began in 1974.

Consumer confidence is now weaker than at its lowest point during the global banking crisis or the Covid shutdown as cost-of-living pressures escalate, according to the long-running survey.

It comes as UK unemployment hits a 50-year low with vacancies outnumbering job seekers for the first time, and inflation peaking at a 40-year high driven by soaring food and fuel bills.

Updated: May 20, 2022, 7:24 AM