Official figures show the economy failed to regain much momentum in May – the second full month of the coronavirus lockdown.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported a 1.8% improvement in UK output during May compared to the previous month – worse than the 5% spurt economists had expected.
But it determined that the economy remained 24.5% below its pre-COVID-19 crisis level in February.
Jonathan Athow, deputy national statistician at the ONS, said of the performance: “Manufacturing and house-building showed signs of recovery as some businesses saw staff return to work.
“Despite this, the economy was still a quarter smaller in May than in February, before the full effects of the pandemic struck.
“In the important services sector we saw some pick-up in retail, which saw record online sales.
“However, with lockdown restrictions remaining in place, many other services remained in the doldrums, with a number of areas seeing further declines.”
The data is encouraging in the sense that the worst would appear to be over following the record slump for output in April.
It was during that time government loan and furlough schemes got into gear, to help shield businesses and wages from the worst of the enforced hibernation of the economy.
However, data covering June and the second quarter of the year – due for release next month – is on course to confirm the sharpest recession for generations.
The Office for Budget Responsibility is due to give an update later on Tuesday on its projections for growth and government borrowing.
The chancellor has been borrowing at levels not seen since World War Two to fund his COVID-19 war chest.
Rishi Sunak announced further stimulus in a statement to MPs last week as the government bids to ensure a strong fightback.
He said in response to the ONS data: “Today’s figures underline the scale of the challenge we face.
“I know people are worried about the security of their jobs and incomes.
“That’s why I set out our Plan for Jobs last week, following the PM’s new deal for Britain, to protect, support and create jobs as we safely reopen our economy.
“Our clear plan invests up to £30bn in significant and targeted support to put people’s livelihoods at the centre of our national renewal as we emerge through the other side of this crisis.”