The UK has entered into its first double dip recession since 1975, according to new figures released today by the Office for National Statistics.
The data revealed the economy shrank by 0.2 percent over the first three months of 2012, a shock for many economists, who were generally predicting growth of 0.1 percent.
It followed a 0.3 percent fall in GDP in the fourth quarter of 2011, signalling a technical recession.
The UK’s return to recession is a blow to the retail sector at a time when a boost to consumer confidence is desperately needed, according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC).
The BRC has previously warned that temporary bright spots, such as last month’s retail sales figures, cannot disguise the fundamental difficulties faced by households and businesses.
With inflation growing at almost three times the rate of average wage increases and personal budgets under pressure from high fuel and utility bills, the organisation claimed that consumers have continued to cut back on many areas of spending.
British Retail Consortium Director General, Stephen Robertson, said: "2012 looks like being tougher than we thought. The figures are subject to revision, but the UK’s return to a technical recession is a blow.
"Whether GDP growth is just above or just below zero doesn’t change the harsh realities facing customers, but it will undermine confidence at a time when we desperately need to be going forward not backwards.”
He added: "Consumers are struggling to balance their budgets. We won’t see a convincing revival until real wage growth returns, but last month’s increase in inflation suggests the squeeze on disposable incomes will continue.
"If it’s to rekindle recovery the Government must deliver a credible growth strategy. It should halt its tsunami of destructive new regulations and taxes. They are adding costs to individuals and households and can only prolong this new recession."