Coronavirus borrowing hits record £55.2bn high in May as UK debt mountain soars above GDP for first time since 1960s

Borrowing hit £55.2bn in May, up on April and hitting debt levels not seen since 1963 Credit: Dominic Lipinski / PA

Government borrowing surged to a new record high in May, hitting £55.2 billion and beating the newly revised £48.5 billion for April, following heavy spending in the face of coronavirus, according to new figures.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) added that public sector borrowing – excluding banks owned by the state – was nearly nine times higher than the levels in May 2019.

It means the UK’s debt mountain has also now grown to more than the entire country’s output – gross domestic product – for the first time since 1963, officials added, to £1.95 trillion or 100.9% of GDP.

Data showing the speed of borrowing during the coronavirus crisis Credit: ONS/PA

Boris Johnson admitted there would be "some difficult times ahead" but said he believes "the British public understand that, they can see there's been a huge economic cost to what has happened".

"There's been a massive lack of economic activity for a very long time - of course that's going to be painful and expensive to make up, but we're a very creative, very dynamic society, we will come back," he added.

He said in the "next few weeks" there will be updates from him and the chancellor about "how we want to bounce forward".

April was previously thought to be the all-time highest borrowing month since records began in 1993, coming in at £62.1 billion, but officials on Friday revised this down by £13.6 billion due to larger-than-expected tax and national insurance contributions and lower costs associated with the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

The furlough scheme is expected to cost the Treasury £60 billion by the time it closes in October, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR).

Borrowing in the current financial year-to-date, which is April and May, is estimated to have been £103.7 billion – up £87 billion on the same period a year ago and the highest two-month period on record.

The OBR has previously predicted last month that borrowing for the entire year is expected to hit £298.4 billion.

All the extra borrowing means debt at the end of May was £1.95 trillion, up £173.2 billion, or 20.5 percentage points, compared with the same month a year ago.

The amount of cash needed by the Government in May was also a record high at £62.7 billion, with £126.2 billion required in just April and May combined, the ONS added.

Interest payments on the debts were £3.3 billion in May, up £0.2 billion from May 2019 as the amounts are linked to inflation.

The increase in borrowing came because central Government receipts fell 28.4% compared to May a year ago, at £40.7 billion, including £28.9 billion in taxes.

Value Added Tax (VAT), Pay As You Earn (PAYE) Income Tax and Corporation Tax receipts fell by 46%, 29.4% and 14% respectively, the ONS said, although officials were keen to stress the numbers could change when actual cash data is received.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said: “Today’s figures confirm that coronavirus is having a severe impact on our public finances.

“The best way to restore our public finances to a more sustainable footing is to safely reopen our economy so people can return to work.

“We’ve set out our plan to do this in a gradual and safe fashion, including reopening high streets across the country this week, as we kickstart our economic recovery.”

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