1. Main points

  • The economy has experienced a significant shock since the start of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic; gross domestic product (GDP) has fallen dramatically, with production, services and construction remaining well below their February 2020 levels.

  • Analysis of our Monthly Business Survey (MBS) returns and external data, including comments from over 15,000 businesses, has shown that impacts from social distancing and "lockdown" resulting from the coronavirus had a significant and wide-ranging negative impact on output during May 2020.

  • Despite being much lower than their February 2020 levels, retail and supporting industries grew slightly between April and May 2020, primarily because of the uptake in online shopping.

  • Manufacturing and construction growth during May 2020 was primarily because of the recommencement of work, as businesses managed to operate while adhering to social distancing measures.

  • Many services industries contracted in May 2020, citing a lack of demand from their business customers, following the earlier impact of the coronavirus.

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2. The UK economy during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic

This article analyses the overall impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on the output measure of gross domestic product (GDP) during May 2020, providing a more in-depth insight of the impacts of the coronavirus on the UK economy.

GDP in May was 24.5% below the level of February 2020, having risen by 1.8% in May 2020 (Figure 1). This reflects widespread small rises in construction and manufacturing and a more mixed picture in services, with most industries continuing to fall but with retail ensuring there was a small overall rise.1 For more details, please see GDP monthly estimate, UK: May 2020.

Analysis of our Monthly Business Survey (MBS) returns and external data, including comments from over 15,000 businesses, confirmed that the coronavirus pandemic continues to have a significant negative impact on output during May 2020. This was caused by a complex mix of factors, including the effects of social distancing, which led to a fall in consumer demand, along with business and factory closures and supply chain disruptions.

Although the overall level of activity remains well below February 2020 levels, the manufacturing and construction industries have begun to adapt to social distancing requirements to enable increases in output, where permissible. The picture in services is more mixed, with further declines in most industries more than offset by growth in retail and other industries, which have taken advantage of a boost to on-line retailing.

More about coronavirus

  • Find the latest on coronavirus (COVID-19) in the UK.
  • All ONS analysis, summarised in our coronavirus roundup.
  • View all coronavirus data.
  • Find out how we are working safely in our studies and surveys.

  • April 2020 output saw record falls in the three main indicators: services, manufacturing and construction. Despite growth in May 2020, all three remain significantly lower than in February 2020.

    The output of services industries remains 24.4% below the level of February 2020, growing only by 0.9% in the latest month. The production industries remain 19.1% below their February 2020 level, even after growth of 6.0% in the latest month, with manufacturing declining by 22.3% since February 2020 and growing by 8.4% since April 2020. The construction industry remains 38.8% below the February 2020 level, despite a rise of 8.2% in the latest month (Figure 2).

    The features of growth include:

    • the recommencement of manufacturing-related activities for some businesses in May after stopping production earlier in the year. These were mainly because of implementing social distancing protocols and recommencing usual business, retooling and producing new items, or an increase in demand, resulting in an increased need for production

    • a pickup in retail and supporting industries such as freight transport by road, warehousing, and post- and courier-related activities linked to online sales

    • ongoing projects recommencing at the end of May in construction and construction-related activities. Further detail on the performance in the construction industry is given in Construction output in Great Britain: May 2020

    • an ongoing fall in other industries within the service sector, citing a lack of demand from their business customers, following the earlier impact of the coronavirus resulting in a ripple effect from April 2020.

    Despite a number of businesses reporting that they had begun trading again in May 2020, there are still a higher number of businesses than usual who are reporting no turnover (Figure 3).

    This evidence is supported by our Business Impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) Survey (BICS) Wave 5: 4 to 17 May 2020 and Wave 6: 18 to 31 May 2020. In Wave 5, at a UK level and across all industries, 82% of businesses responded that they were continuing to trade (16,864 businesses), with 18% temporarily closed or having paused trading (3,701 businesses). In Wave 6, business continuing to trade had risen slightly to 84% (17,260 businesses). In turn, 16% of businesses were temporarily closed or had paused trading (3,287 businesses).

    Figure 4 shows the impact for different industries over recent months, with some industries displaying a small pickup during May 2020, while others have declined further.

    Figure 4: Some of the industries in production and services saw a small rise in May 2020, but most remained substantially below their February 2020 level

    Index for various industries, seasonally adjusted, UK, January 2018 to May 2020

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    Notes for The UK economy during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic

    1. Services comprise 79.6% of the UK economy, while production (including manufacturing) and construction comprise 13.6% and 6.1% respectively.
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    3. Services industries

    Services industries that are linked to retail activity had a boost in May 2020, particularly from online sales. These included freight transport by road, warehousing, and postal- and courier-related activities. In addition, a number of other industries, predominantly those with non-market elements, also saw some small growths in May. However, any growth is muted in comparison with the large falls in April 2020, so many industries remain far below their values in February 2020.

    The majority of services industries continued to struggle in May 2020 with 29 of the 51 still continuing to decline from their April 2020 position. Those industries struggling the most were those that were suffering a ripple effect as businesses cited a lack of demand from April, which impacted turnover during May. Other industries that were struggling were those that remained closed in May because of government requirements, such as cinemas and theatres.

    Retail and retail-related industries

    Of the 0.9% growth in services, retail contributed 0.8 percentage points. Retail sales volumes partly rebounded in May with an increase of 12.0%, but they still remained 13.1% below their level in February 2020. The proportion attributed to online retail soared to the highest value since records began in January 1997 in May 2020 at 33.4%, which compares with the 30.8% reported in April 2020. More information on retail is given in Retail sales, Great Britain: May 2020.

    Supplementary to the growth in services are those industries that support retail, especially online shopping, which saw moderate growth. Wholesale except for motor vehicles, land transport, warehousing, and postal and courier activities benefitted from the uplift in retail sales from an increase in demand.

    Wholesale, retail and service of motor vehicles had the largest growth of 136.1%, but this remained 85.2% below its February 2020 level. Comments from business respondents to the Monthly Business Suvey (MBS) attributed this growth to the increase in online orders for new cars, increase in purchase of fleet cars and increase in service activities compared with April 2020. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) reported there was negative 97% growth in April 2020 compared with April 2019, whereas in May 2020 this had improved slightly, with UK new car sales down by 89% compared with May 2019.

    Accommodation services continued to decline in May 2020, whereas food and beverage services showed a small pickup. This was because of an increase in restaurant and take-away activity, while pubs and bars continued to decline. Our MBS reported turnover of £40 million for pubs and bars in May 2020, compared with £1.96 billion in May 2019.

    Professional, scientific and technical activities

    All industries in professional, scientific and technical activities declined in May 2020, except for veterinary activities. This industry increased by 30.9% despite remaining 20% below the level in February 2020. Other industries in professional, scientific and technical activities cited a lack of demand from business since April 2020, which impacted turnover during May.

    Entertainment-related industries

    The information and communication sector continued to show declines in May 2020, with all industries showing a decline, except for information service activities. Film, video and TV programme production, sound recording and music publishing activities declined by 17.4% because of social distancing affecting production of TV and film. Cinemas continued to suffer in May as venues remained closed, showing a 97% decline in turnover since February 2020. However, music publishing grew slightly in May 2020 but still remained significantly lower than in February 2020.

    Creative, arts and entertainment activities include both venues and artists. Venues were significantly impacted because of closure during April and May 2020, while the businesses supporting venues such as lighting engineers, set designers and builders, and costume suppliers declined by 86% compared with February 2020. Artists still received royalties in this period. During May, creative, arts and entertainment activities further declined by 28.3%, as royalties from earlier work declined.


    Approximately 69% of the education sector is government output, which is measured using direct volume indicators rather than by deflating expenditure. The volume of educational activities is approximated as detailed in Section 4 of Coronavirus and the effects on UK gross domestic product (GDP). This element of education saw gowth of 1.4% in May 2020 primarily because of increases in labour inputs from preparatory work and from increases in attendance. The MBS measures 21% of the education industry including universities; this element of education fell by 2.0%.

    Human health and social work activities

    Approximately 85% of human health and social work is government output, which is measured using direct volume indicators rather than by deflating expenditure. The volume of government health care output in the UK is estimated using available information on the number of different kinds of activities and procedures and weighted by the cost of each activity. It is detailed in Section 4 of Coronavirus and the effects on UK GDP. This element of health saw an estimated 1.0% growth in May 2020, although this is based on a very incomplete dataset at this stage. This may be revised as more complete data on health volumes are collected. The MBS measures 10% of the health industry and includes non-government health care; this element of health care fell by approximately 0.5%.

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    4. Production industries

    Total production output during May 2020 continued to be significantly impacted by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, falling by 19.1% compared with February 2020, the previous full month of “normal” operating conditions.

    Output increased during May 2020 by 6.0%, the strongest monthly rise in output since February 1979 (7.5%). The strength was primarily because of the rise of 8.4% from the manufacturing sector, which accounts for 75% of the production industries. However, May’s growth should be interpreted in the context of a reaction to the weakness displayed during March and April 2020 because of the significant impact of the coronavirus. Output for May 2020 was still well below typical expectations and was highlighted further by the fall across all four main sectors compared with February 2020 (Figure 7).

    Despite increased monthly output during May, there were only modest changes to the lockdown restrictions and social distancing measures introduced by the UK government on 23 March 2020. This continued to negatively impact more generally on:

    • normal trading or factory operating conditions because of social distancing requirements

    • supply chains (in the UK and overseas)

    • consumer demand

    Figure 8 shows monthly growth for the four main production sectors and manufacturing subsectors.

    The increase from manufacturing was the second largest monthly rise since records began in January 1968, led by widespread strength, with 11 of the 13 subsectors displaying growth. However, output for all but one of the sectors – pharmaceuticals – was significantly down compared with February 2020.

    We received responder-led evidence that some of the strength during May was aligned to manufacturers implementing changes to processes and/or machinery that allowed them to operate either partially or fully while adhering to social distancing and health and safety requirements.

    In turn, this results in some notable strength at industry level. However, these can only be considered partial recoveries following an unprecedented weak April 2020 position. As a result, most industries remain well below February 2020 levels.

    Following a fall in both export and domestic turnover growth over both March and April 2020, there was a partial recovery for both variables during May 2020, suggesting the further re-opening of UK and worldwide supply chains amid the easing of lockdown restrictions.

    However, lockdown restrictions in the UK and social distancing measures still had a negative impact across the manufacturing sector during May 2020. To highlight this impact, Figure 3 displays the percentage of zero turnover responses in our Monthly Business Survey (MBS).

    The percentage of zero turnover responses, although lower in May, was still comparable with April 2020. This highlights the positive impact of those responders that were able to resume factory operations during May, even at reduced capacity. Businesses that remain closed will have to conform to health and safety government guidelines when they reopen.

    Adaptations to processes and equipment may be required for some businesses to operate at full capacity or to recommence factory operations. Our Business Impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) Survey (BICS) Wave 5: 4 to 17 May 2020 reported that over 50% of businesses across all manufacturing industries had responded they were implementing, or intending to implement, the top three most common safety measures (social distancing, personal protective equipment (PPE) and staggered breaks).

    Given the continued widespread impact of the coronavirus pandemic across production and manufacturing, we have highlighted the most interesting anecdotal evidence, impacting both positively and negatively, on subsector- and industry-level growth.

    Food products

    Despite the monthly strength, the food products industries were 6.9% weaker in May than in February 2020, with other food products, meat and meat products, and bakery and farinaceous products the hardest hit since the start of the pandemic.

    Six of the eight subindustries within this sector rose on the month, with notable rises in meat products, fish, fruit and vegetables, and other food products partially offset by falls in dairy products and grain mill products and starches and starch products.

    As in April, we continued to receive widespread evidence of severe disruption from the hospitality sector impacting on the supply to pubs, restaurants and cafés.

    Elsewhere, we received a mix of positive and negative coronavirus impacts on this sector. Some responders that benefitted from the panic-buying phase, prominent in supermarkets during March 2020, have seen turnover return to typical levels over April and May. In contrast, we received some evidence of increased sales of pet food, more specifically a "Spring Watch" effect, leading to an increase in the sale of bird seed. We also saw increased sales of a range of food products as more people spent time at home cooking during lockdown.

    Alcoholic beverages and soft drinks

    Despite monthly strength, output for alcoholic beverages and soft drinks were 21.1% weaker in May than in February 2020, clearly impacted by a drastic fall in demand from the hospitality sector because of the closures of pubs, restaurants and cafés.

    The monthly rise of 9.1% from alcoholic beverages was largely driven by evidence of increased sales in supermarkets, with larger businesses facing this sector benefitting the most. This only partially offsets the clear impact from the continued fall in demand from the hospitality sector. As a result, some businesses continued to diversify (for example, using alcohol to produce hand sanitiser products or selling direct to domestic users).

    We also received responder-led evidence that some manufacturers of bottled spirits were adapting to coronavirus social distancing and health and safety requirements, including bottling processes, leading to increased production levels during May.

    Soft drinks also recovered partially following a weak April. The rise of 14.9% from this industry is because of widespread strength, with 86% of our MBS responders displaying increased turnover. In contrast, "away from home" sales continued to suffer because of lockdown restrictions on travel and the continued fall in demand from the hospitality sector.

    Textiles, wearing apparel and leather products

    This sector provided a partial recovery, rising by 39.4% during May 2020, led by record increases across all three subindustries, although all fell during April to a notably weak level. As a result, output was still 41.5% weaker in May than in February 2020.

    Responder-led evidence across this sector suggested that a number of responders have re-opened fully or partially. There was also some evidence of diversification, with some responders starting or continuing to produce personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks and overalls.

    Wood and wood products except furniture

    Again, from a notably weak April position, the rise of 57.5% during May was primarily because of an increase in supply to the construction trade.

    There has also been increased demand for DIY products because of the amount of home DIY projects being undertaken as people spent more time making home improvements during lockdown. This is supported by our Retail Sales Index (RSI) release for May 2020, which evidenced that household goods stores saw the biggest increase in volume sales in May 2020 at 42.0%, when compared with April. According to retailers in this sector, consumers appeared to be carrying out home improvements while spending more time than usual in their homes.

    Basic pharmaceutical products

    This export-led sector continued to maintain strong levels of output, despite falling by 1.7% during May. There was no responder-led evidence around COVID-19 treatment, vaccines and testing in May, but we did receive some evidence of increased export activity around flu vaccines, in readiness for the 2020 to 2021 flu season. A comparable export proportion to February 2020 suggests that worldwide supply chains have been largely unaffected throughout the coronavirus pandemic for this industry.

    Rubber and plastics products and other non-metallic mineral products

    From a very weak April position, sector-level growth of 32.5% is because of strength across all three subindustries. Within rubber and plastic products, there was some evidence that the production of PPE) boosted turnover. It should be noted that plastic products were up on the month by 22.6% compared with rubber products at 6.6%.

    Construction-focused supply chains were the primary factor for increased output from the two remaining subindustries: cement, lime, plaster and articles of concrete and glass, refractory, clay and stone products.

    Motor vehicles, trailers and semi-trailers

    This industry displayed a record monthly rise of 108.4%, although this should be treated within the context of a fall of 85.8% compared with February 2020. We received responder-led evidence that large factory closures were still the significant factor during May. Some manufacturers did re-open, including a limited number of large factories, with 10.6% of responders returning zero turnover compared with 21.1% in April 2020.

    Because of weak global demand during the pandemic, car production remained significantly below normal levels. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) reported that in comparison with May 2019, car production for May 2020 was down by 95.4%.

    We have also received evidence of some diversification in activity, with medical products being manufactured.


    There was notable strength from this industry, which rose by 41.0%, from a very weak April position. This partial recovery is supported by our BICS Wave 5: 4 to 17 May 2020, where over 50% of its responders reported that "Yes, the business started trading again in the last two weeks".

    In contrast, we also received strong responder-led evidence from our MBS of a continued negative impact from shut downs, a reduction in orders resulting from less demand and factories or sites re-opening but with reduced production levels because of social distancing measures.

    Other manufacturing

    This subindustry rose by 7.0% during May. Responder-led evidence suggested a far more positive effect in May from increased demand for medical equipment (for example, PPE, ventilators and oxygen tubing). However, most of the strength from this subindustry was not widespread because of ongoing lockdown impacts, affecting the sale and supply of other medical equipment for the provision of other medical services, which were reduced at this time (for example, opticians and dentists).

    We also received evidence of a positive impact from increased demand for toys and games, linked to keeping children occupied at home during the period of school closures.

    Electricity and gas

    The fall of 2.5% at sector level was driven by gas supply. This fell by 8.1%, mainly because of warmer than average temperatures during May 2020. The Met Office reported that the provisional UK mean temperature was 11.3 degrees Celsius, which is 1.0 degree Celsius above the 1981 to 2010 long-term average. This temperature effect also had some impact on the increase in the water supply industry within the water and waste sector.

    Despite much of the UK population spending more time in their homes because of continued lockdown restrictions, electricity supply fell by 0.8%, mainly because of less demand from industry, which outstripped the increase in domestic use.

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    5. Data collection and sources

    The Monthly Business Survey (MBS) is the primary data source for 75% of production industries and 50% of services industries. This is an online questionnaire where businesses are asked to provide their turnover and, if they are within manufacturing, export turnover.

    Survey response – production and services industries

    Response by turnover for services industries in May has risen to 86.4% following response rates of 79.0% at the first publication in March and 84.4% in April. The response rate for May 2020 compares favourably with the 86.6% achieved when February 2020 was first published.

    Continued data collection since the first publication has seen response increase to 93.0% in February 2020, 91.4% in March 2020 and 89.7% in April 2020 (see Historical MBS (services) response rates).

    Similarly for production industries, response by turnover increased to 88.4% in May 2020 compared with 71.7% in March 2020 and 79.8% in April 2020. The response rate for May 2020 compares favourably with the 87.6% achieved when February 2020 was first published.

    Continued data collection since the first publication has seen response increase to 94.7% in February 2020, 89.3% in March 2020 and 92.0% in April 2020 (see MBS (production) response rates).

    Though response rates were at normal levels across the MBS, in the production industries wearing apparel, leather and related products, and printing of recorded material remained low. In services, there was weaker than usual response rates in other repair of computers and household appliances, services to buildings and landscaping activities, personal services activities, and food and beverage services.

    Survey response – construction industry

    For construction industries in May 2020, the response by turnover was 70.4%, an improvement on the 54.4% for March and 65.6% for April at the first publication. The move from a paper to an online survey in March is behind much of this improvement.

    Other data sources

    Other data are primarily sourced from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) (for example, government expenditure, households' expenditure and finance expenditure) but also other bodies such as the Department for Transport (DfT), Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). These account for 50% of services industries and 25% of production industries. We are also able to gain intelligence from these data providers regarding monthly changes in their data.

    We also use the fortnightly Business Impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) Survey (BICS) as part of our quality assurance and validation process.


    Care should be taken when using the month-on-month movements as data can be volatile; longer-term growth rates and examination of the time series allow for better interpretation of the statistics. Shorter time series, including those for the construction industry, which only began in 2010, are implicitly more volatile.

    Impact of business closures

    Many businesses have ceased trading because of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, either on a permanent or temporary basis. This impact was less in May 2020 than it was in April 2020 across the economy.

    In the services industries, a normal 6.0% of business returns to the MBS supplied zero turnover in February 2020, rising to 7.2% in March 2020 and 16.4% in April 2020 before falling slightly to 15.4% in May 2020.

    In contrast, the production industries have seen a larger decrease in zero turnover returns in May, falling from 11.9% in April to 8.6% in May. Similarly, in the construction industries, zero turnover returns have fallen from 42.5% in April to 30.5% in May.


    There is always a trade-off between the timeliness of our published estimates and the availability of data. With the publication of May 2020 data, some sources are not available as normal and these have been forecasted using standard ONS methodology and practice.

    These inevitably include quarterly data from the ONS expenditure approach to the measure of gross domestic product (GDP) (government expenditure from HM Treasury, households' expenditure from the ONS Living Costs and Food Survey (LFS), and finance expenditure primarily from the Bank of England) where we are using initial informed estimates from ONS suppliers.

    At this stage, these data are predominantly based on forecasts, so we have used a wider range of data to inform our judgements around these, for example:

    • we have used the COBR report to help model ferry data in the water transport industry and passenger data in the rail transport industry while we await our normal delivery of quarterly data from the DfT

    • the independent schools component of the education industry is measured using annual data from the Independent Schools Council, which requires the use of forecast data for Quarter 2 (Apr to June) 2020; we have modelled the forecast such that it mirrors the movement in government-funded schools

    • workforce jobs data for Quarter 2 2020 are not yet available; for mining support services, we have modelled data from oil and gas extraction, while for membership organisations, we have modelled data from the experimental series of weekly hours worked for the whole economy, assuming that the hours worked in the final week of March 2020 continued during April

    Changes in products produced by businesses

    Comments received as part of the MBS have made clear that businesses have begun to change their product and service mix because of the coronavirus pandemic. Within the manufacturing industries, this has particularly focused on, for example, medical equipment, personal protective equipment (PPE) and hand sanitisers by businesses previously unfamiliar with the manufacture of those products.

    Businesses can often change the make-up of their products and services and as a consequence, it is challenging to keep pace with these changes in the short-term. We capture these changes through the Annual Survey of Goods and Services (ASGS), which provides product breakdowns of each industry.


    Revisions are an inevitable consequence of publishing on a timely basis as more data become available, including higher response rates to surveys. Users should be aware that during periods of significant data volatility, it is possible that revisions may be greater than normal. These can be tracked through revisions triangles published alongside the appropriate bulletins and articles and will be featured in these releases where appropriate.

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    Manylion cyswllt ar gyfer y Erthygl

    Mark Stephens, Sian Cross and Gareth Luckwell
    Ffôn: +44 (0)1633 456387