Coronavirus and the latest indicators for the UK economy and society: 14 January 2021

Early experimental data on the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) on the UK economy and society. These faster indicators are created using rapid response surveys, novel data sources and experimental methods.

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Contact:
Email David Matthewson

Release date:
14 January 2021

Next release:
21 January 2021

1. Main points

  • Local and national restrictions changed during the period covered by this bulletin; an overview of the restrictions for each UK nation is available in Measuring the data and should be considered against movements shown in the data.
  • According to the Business Impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) Survey Wave 21 (referring to 14 December to 27 December 2020), 71% of UK businesses were currently trading, down from 84% in Wave 20 (30 November to 13 December 2020).See section 3
  • Of all UK businesses, excluding those that have permanently ceased trading, 14% of their workforce were on furlough leave in Wave 21, an increase from 11% in Wave 20. See section 3
  • According to the latest Opinions and Lifestyle Survey, in the week ending 10 January 2021, the proportion of working adults in Great Britain who had not travelled nor worked from home decreased by 12 percentage points to 18%. See section 4
  • According to exactEarth seasonally adjusted shipping data, in the week ending 10 January 2021, the seven-day average number of daily cargo ship visits in the UK increased to 88 visits, from 77 visits the week before. See section 5
  • According to Value Added Tax (VAT) returns, in December 2020, there were 19,990 new VAT reporters; this is an increase from December 2019 at 17,770. See section 6
  • In Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2020, around 22,000 more firms reported increasing turnover than decreasing turnover, compared with Quarter 3 (July to Sept) 2020. See section 6
  • According to Adzuna, in the week ending 8 January 2021, job adverts decreased in all countries and regions in the UK. See section 8.
  • According to the Department for Transport (DfT), on Monday 11 January 2021, the volume of all motor vehicles saw a slight decrease when compared with the previous week. See section 9.
  • According to Springboard, in the week ending 10 January 2021, overall retail footfall in the UK fell by 2 percentage points to 35% of the level seen in the same week of the previous year, the lowest level since the week ending 14 June 2020. See section 11.

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Results presented throughout this bulletin are experimental and may be subject to revision.

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2. Latest indicators at a glance

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3. Business impact of the coronavirus

Final results from Wave 21 of the Business Impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) Survey (BICS) are for the period 14 December to 27 December 2020, which closed on 10 January 2021. Out of approximately 39,000 UK businesses sampled, 22.5% responded.

These dates should be kept in mind in relation to local and national lockdowns and, dependent on the location and date when the business responded, this could have an impact on the estimates.

Also note that the reference period for these data overlaps the dates when an EU trade deal was agreed on 24 December 2020 and when the EU transition period ended on 31 December 2020. Therefore, data should be interpreted with these dates in mind and how these events may have impacted responses.

Figure 1: 71% of businesses were currently trading, a decrease from 84% in the previous wave

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Notes:

  1. Final weighted results, Wave 7 to Wave 21 of the Office for National Statistics’ (ONS’) Business Impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) Survey (BICS).
  2. Waves will not sum to 100% because of rounding, percentages less than 1% being removed for disclosure purposes, and the option ‘Permanently ceased trading’ being removed.

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Across all UK industries, in Wave 21:

  • 68% of businesses had been trading for more than the last two weeks (a decrease from 79% in Wave 20)
  • 3% of businesses had started trading within the last two weeks after a pause in trading (a decrease from 6% in Wave 20)
  • 9% of businesses had paused trading but intend to restart in the next two weeks (an increase from 2% in Wave 20)
  • 18% of businesses had paused trading and do not intend to restart in the next two weeks (an increase from 11% from Wave 20)
  • 2% of businesses had permanently ceased trading (unchanged from Wave 20)

A comprehensive analysis of the responses from the voluntary fortnightly Business Impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) Survey is available in the Business insights and impact on the UK economy bulletin, published on 14 January 2021.

More about coronavirus

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4. Social impacts of the coronavirus

This section includes some headline results from Wave 40 of the Opinions and Lifestyle Survey (OPN) covering the period 7 January to 10 January 2021. The survey went out to 6,030 adults in Great Britain and had a response rate of 64%.

Further information to help understand the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on people, households and communities in Great Britain, will be available in Coronavirus and the social impacts on Great Britain published on 15 January 2021.

Travelling to work

In the week ending 10 January 2021, the proportion of working adults in Great Britain who:

  • travelled to work in the last seven days (both exclusively and in combination with working from home) increased by 4 percentage points from the previous period (Wave 39) to 48%
  • worked exclusively from home in the last seven days increased 8 percentage points from the previous period, to 34%; this increase can be attributed to the formal announcement of national lockdowns in England and mainland Scotland in early January 2021
  • neither travelled to work nor worked from home in the last seven days decreased by 12 percentage points from the previous period to 18%

Shopping

The proportion of adults who shopped for things other than food and medicine in the last seven days decreased by 10 percentage points to 6%; this decrease coincided with the formal announcement of national lockdowns in England and mainland Scotland in early January 2021, with the public advised to stay at home except for essential purposes.

The proportion of adults that shopped for food and medicine in the last seven days decreased to 72%, a 5 percentage point decrease from the previous period.

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5. Shipping

These shipping indicators are based on counts of all vessels, cargo and tanker vessels and passenger vessels. As discussed in Faster indicators of UK economic activity: shipping, we expect the shipping indicators to be related to the import and export of goods.

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6. Value Added Tax returns

New reporters

The new reporters index measures the number of firms sending Value Added Tax (VAT) returns for the first time, which is related to the number of firm creations.

In December 2020, there were 19,990 new VAT reporters, the first month to see a decrease since September 2020. However, this remains higher than the three-month average of Quarter 3 (July to Sept) 2020 (18,447). This is also an increase from December 2019 at 17,770 but remains below the 2015 to 2019 longer-term average of 20,908.

Business turnover estimates

Turnover diffusion indices are an aggregate measure used to track whether the majority of firms are reporting an increase or decrease in turnover in their VAT returns. They are calculated as the percentage of firms with increasing turnover minus the percentage with decreasing turnover.

The monthly estimate of gross domestic product (GDP) for November 2020 will be published on Friday 15 January 2021. December 2020 estimates of Retail sales in Great Britain will be published on 22 January 2021.

Quarterly estimates

In Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2020, out of the 273,690 firms that reported their turnover between Quarter 3 (July to Sept) and Quarter 4 2020, around 22,000 more firms reported increasing turnover than decreasing turnover at the total industry level when compared with the previous quarter. The all-industry diffusion index was 3.3 standard deviations above its historical average from 2008 to 2019, with a diffusion index of 0.08. This figure was driven by turnover increases compared with Quarter 3 across the major sectors (services, production, construction), except agriculture, which saw a decrease of 1.3 standard deviations below its historical average.

However, Quarter 4 2020 business turnover when compared with the same quarter a year ago is 1.5 standard deviations below its historical average, indicating more firms across all major industries are seeing decreasing turnover rather than increasing turnover when compared with the same period a year ago.

Monthly estimates

The month-on-month all-industry turnover diffusion index for November 2020 compared with October 2020 has increased, at 1.0 standard deviations above its historical average; showing a diffusion index of 0.03. That is, out of the 37,290 firms who reported monthly turnover between October and November 2020, around 1,000 more firms saw their turnover increase rather than decrease. Across all major industries (services, production, construction), turnover indices remained positive in November 2020 compared with the month before.

More businesses are also seeing decreasing turnover than increasing turnover when compared with the same month a year ago, meaning turnover has not returned to the levels seen before the impact of the pandemic. All major sectors saw a decrease in turnover in November 2020, compared with November 2019, except for agriculture, which shows a diffusion index of 0.04.

The monthly and quarterly diffusion indices can exhibit different trends, as only a subset of firms contributes towards the monthly diffusion indices. Quarterly returns are allocated to the calendar quarter in which two or more of the months lie. For example, a quarterly return covering the period September 2020 to November 2020 will be allocated to Quarter 4 2020. At this stage of the quarterly data cycle, there is limited information about December 2020 feeding into the Quarter 4 2020 estimates.

For more information on how the quarterly reporting periods are derived, see VAT reporting periods in Section 2 of the VAT methodology article. The number of firms contributing towards each of the diffusion indices is published in the dataset.

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7. Online price change in the food and drink basket

A timely indication of weekly online price change for a selection of food and drink products from several large UK retailers has been developed, covering the period 1 June to 10 January 2021. Details of the methodology used for these indicators can be found in Online price changes methodology. This analysis is experimental and should not be compared with our regular consumer price statistics.

The data time series, weekly growth rates, and contributions to the weekly change for all individual food and drink items, along with sample sizes, are published in a dataset alongside this release.

There was an overall increase of 1.2% in basket prices between the week ending 3 January 2021 and the week ending 10 January 2021. This is the largest weekly movement since the data series began in June 2020.

The “spirits” and “sugar, jam, chocolate and confectionery” categories contributed most to the increase in prices, both adding 0.4 percentage points to the overall price change. This was probably driven by the end of seasonal promotions, with retailers returning prices to their pre-Christmas levels.

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8. Online job adverts

These figures use job adverts provided by Adzuna, an online job search engine, and include experimental estimates of online job adverts by Adzuna category and by UK country and NUTS1 region. The number of job adverts over time is an indicator of the demand for labour. The Adzuna categories used do not correspond to Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) categories, so these values are not directly comparable with the Office for National Statistics (ONS) Vacancy Survey.

According to Adzuna, in the latest week ending 8 January 2021, the volume of UK online job adverts decreased by 5 percentage points from the previous week to 72% of the level seen in the same week last year.

Job adverts decreased across all UK countries and English regions in this time. Northern Ireland remains the country with the highest percentage of job adverts compared with the same week of last year. In contrast, London remains the region with the lowest volume of job adverts, at 62% of the volume seen in the same week of last year.

Excluding the “unknown” category, online job adverts decreased in 25 out of 28 categories from the previous week; the remaining three categories each saw a slight increase. “Domestic help” saw the largest decline, down by 32 percentage points from the previous week. “Healthcare and social care” also saw a notable weekly decrease of 7 percentage points.

The overall decrease in online job adverts coincides with the formal announcement of national lockdowns in England and mainland Scotland in early January 2021, ordering the public to stay at home except for essential purposes. This decrease is also consistent with the previous year, suggesting a decline in seasonal recruitment after the Christmas period.

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9. Road and traffic camera data

Road traffic in Great Britain

According to the Department for Transport (DfT) non-seasonally adjusted road traffic data, on Monday 11 January 2021, the volume of all motor vehicle traffic saw a slight decrease when compared with the previous week and was 37 percentage points lower than the first Monday in February 2020. Traffic volumes also remain lower than the pre-Christmas levels. Compared with the previous week, traffic volumes for heavy goods vehicles increased by 18 percentage points and light commercial vehicles increased by 3 percentage points, while volumes of cars decreased by 4 percentage points.

The daily DfT estimates are indexed to the first week of February 2020 and the comparison is with the same day of the week. The data provided are useful as an indication of traffic change rather than actual traffic volumes. More information on the methods, quality and economic analysis for these indicators can be found in the methodology article.

Traffic camera activity

Traffic cameras are a valuable source for understanding the level of activity in towns and cities as well as changing patterns of mobility. The UK has thousands of publicly accessible traffic cameras with providers ranging from national agencies to local authorities. Further information on the methodology used to produce these data is available in our methodology article and Data Science Campus blog.

In the accompanying dataset, the following categories are available as non-seasonally adjusted, seasonally adjusted and trend data:

  • cars
  • motorbikes (only available for London and the North East)
  • buses
  • trucks
  • vans
  • pedestrians and cyclists

The categories are available for the following regions, which give a broad coverage across the UK and represent a range of different-sized settlements in urban and rural settings:

Table 1 shows the proportion (%) of all road activity in the latest week ending 10 January 2021 compared with the previous week for London, Northern Ireland, Manchester and the North East.

Table 2 shows the proportion (%) of all road activity in the North East and London in the latest week ending 10 January 2021 compared with the period before the spring lockdown. Data for before the spring lockdown are calculated as an average from the period 11 March to 22 March 2020.

Users should be aware that weekly traffic camera comparisons are currently being made with the week ending 3 January 2021, which includes New Year’s Day. Users should also note that data are subject to revision because of technical issues with cameras on 3 January 2021.

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10. Company incorporations and voluntary dissolution applications

According to Companies House data, in the week to Friday 8 January 2021 there were 16,097 company incorporations in the UK, up substantially from 8,248 the week before. This is also higher than the levels seen in the second week of 2019 and 2020, when 12,575 and 12,550 company incorporations were registered respectively.

In the week to Friday 8 January 2021 there were 5,233 voluntary company dissolutions, up from 2,955 in the previous week. This is down on levels observed in the equivalent weeks of 2019 and 2020 when there were 6,636 and 5,984 voluntary company dissolutions respectively.

Changes in data between the weeks ending 8 January 2021 and 1 January 2021 should be considered in light of there being two bank holidays in the period 26 December 2020 to 1 January 2021, over which the number of company incorporations and voluntary dissolution applications have historically been low. A similar pattern was observed in both data time series between Week 1 and Week 2 of 2019 and 2020.

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11. OpenTable seated diner estimates

According to OpenTable on Sunday 10 January 2021, the percentage of seated diners at restaurants from online, phone, and walk-in reservations in the UK decreased to 0% of their level on the same day of the equivalent week of 2020 (Sunday 12 January 2020), the lowest recorded since the end of November 2020.

However, 0% was not observed throughout the whole week. The UK percentage of seated diners was at 1% on a few days throughout the week leading up to 10 January 2021, when compared with their respective dates on the previous year. This reflects restaurant activity in the selected areas where lockdown-level restrictions were not in place for some of the week.

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12. Footfall

These figures are provided by Springboard, a provider of data on customer activity. They measure the volume of footfall compared with the same day of the previous year at the overall level and across the categories of high streets, retail parks and shopping centres. For example, Sunday 10 January 2021 was compared with Sunday 12 January 2020.

According to Springboard, in the week ending 10 January 2021, overall retail footfall in the UK fell by 2 percentage points to 35% of the level seen in the same week of the previous year, the lowest level since the week ending 14 June 2020.

Footfall fell across all retail locations compared with the previous week. Shopping centres decreased the most, by 4 percentage points, high streets by 2 percentage points, and retail parks by 1 percentage point.

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13. Data

Weekly and daily shipping indicators
Dataset | Released 14 January 2021
The weekly and daily shipping indicators dataset associated with the faster indicators of UK economic activity.

Traffic camera activity
Dataset | Released 14 January 2021
Experimental dataset for busyness indices covering the UK

Online weekly price changes
Dataset | Released 14 January 2021
The online price changes for a selection of food and drink products from several large UK retailers. These data are experimental estimates developed to deliver timely indicators to help understand the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Business insights and impact on the UK economy
Dataset | Released 14 January 2021
Responses from the new voluntary fortnightly business survey, which captures businesses responses on how their turnover, workforce prices, trade and business resilience have been affected in the two-week reference period.

Online job advert estimates
Dataset | Released 14 January 2021
Experimental job advert indices covering the UK job market.

Economic activity, faster indicators, UK
Dataset | Released 14 January 2021
Data on road traffic and Value Added Tax (VAT) data from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

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14. Glossary

Company incorporations

Incorporations are when a company is added to the Companies House register of limited companies. This can also include where an existing business applies to become a limited company, where it was not one before.

Diffusion index

The diffusion index tracks the growth in turnover and expenditure of firms. It is constructed to lie between negative 1 and 1. For example, if 65% of firms have increasing turnover, 30% have decreasing turnover and 5% turnover remains unchanged, then the diffusion index is 0.35.

Faster indicator

A faster indicator provides insights into economic activity using close-to-real-time big data, administrative data sources, rapid response surveys or Experimental Statistics, which represent useful economic and social concepts.

New reporter

A new reporter is defined as a firm with a Value Added Tax (VAT) reference (that is, firm identification number) that has not previously reported its VAT returns. New reporters are published within one month of the end of the reporting period.

The new reporting behaviour measure is classified by the month the data were received by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), known as the receipt date, which is not necessarily the same as the reference period (the period for which the VAT return is made).

A business must register for VAT with HMRC if its VAT taxable turnover, that is, the total value of everything it sells that is not exempt from VAT, is more than £85,000 in a rolling 12-month period. As such, the number of new reporters detailed here are not directly comparable with the number of company incorporations shown in our section on Companies House data, which shows when a company is added to the Companies House register of limited companies.

For more information please see the methodology article on Value Added Tax returns.

Voluntary dissolution applications

A voluntary dissolution application is when a company applies to begin dissolution proceedings. As such, they effectively chose to be removed from the Companies House register. For a company to be eligible to voluntarily dissolve, it should not have completed any trading activity for a period of three months.

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15. Measuring the data

End of EU exit transition period

As the transition period ends and the UK enters into a new Trade and Cooperation Agreement with the EU, the UK statistical system will continue to produce and publish our wide range of economic and social statistics and analysis. We are committed to continued alignment with the highest international statistical standards, enabling comparability both over time and internationally, and ensuring the general public, statistical users and decision makers have the data they need to be informed.

Footfall methodology

Users should be aware that the percentage changes quoted in this bulletin for the week are based on an average of the percentage change on each of the seven days and are not weighted by footfall volume on each day. This can result in the percentage change in this bulletin differing from that published by Springboard in other publications.

UK regional lockdown restrictions

The following is a summary of the changes in coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions in each of the four UK constituent countries between 4 January and 10 January 2021.

A full list of national restrictions is available for England from GOV.UK, for Scotland from the Scottish Government, for Wales from the Welsh Government and for Northern Ireland from nidirect.

Lockdown restrictions as of: 4 January 2021

England

  • Most of the country is in Tier 4 restrictions with the exception of Yorkshire, most of the South West, areas of the West Midlands as well as Liverpool and Merseyside which are in Tier 3.

Scotland

  • All of mainland Scotland is in Level 4 of the country’s COVID restrictions. Orkney, the Shetland Islands and parts of the Western Isles are in Level 3.

Wales

  • All of Wales is under Tier 4 lockdown restrictions.

Northern Ireland

  • Northern Ireland is under a national lockdown.

Lockdown restrictions as of: 5 January 2021

England

  • All primary and secondary schools close in England after opening for one day after returning from Christmas holidays. Exceptions exist for children of critical workers and those who are deemed vulnerable.

Scotland

  • Scotland enters a full national lockdown with a “stay at home” message becoming legally enforceable.

Lockdown restrictions as of: 6 January 2021

England

  • National lockdown restrictions announced by the Prime Minister on 4 January 2021 legally come into force.
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16. Strengths and limitations

Detailed information on the strengths and limitations of the different indicators included in this bulletin is available in the Coronavirus and the latest indicators of the UK economy and society methodology.

We will summarise any crucial updates or warnings in this section in the future.

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Contact details for this Statistical bulletin

David Matthewson
faster.indicators@ons.gov.uk
Telephone: +44 (0)1633 455612