Britain under Prime Minister Boris Johnson is running into the biggest headwinds it’s faced since the 1970s, heaping pain on an economy still reeling from Brexit and the pandemic. After suffering from unprecedented shocks in recent years, the nation is succumbing to more intractable problems marked by plodding growth, surging inflation and a series of damaging strikes. The result is a plunge in consumer confidence that analysts warn may lead to a recession. Railway workers last week walked off the job in anger that their living standards are slipping, and criminal barristers are striking on Monday. Teachers and doctors may be next. The headline figures make grim reading. The economy is on track to shrink in the second quarter, raising the possibility that the UK is already in a recession. Even when the outlook appeared brighter, officials estimated that growth would settle at a below-par 1.8 per cent a year, with no end in sight to the feeble productivity that has blighted the country for more than a decade. Britain braces for biggest rail strike in decades While growth is on track to lag most major economies next year, inflation is also on the rise. Consumer prices surged by 9.1 per cent in the year through to May, the most for 40 years. The Bank of England expects inflation to accelerate again when energy bills are allowed to rise in the autumn, reaching more than 11 per cent. It’s a blow for the UK, which led the world in growth after the pandemic, and recalls the dark days of the 1960s and 1970s when commentators and politicians identified Britain as the “sick man of Europe” because of its performance. Those figures overshadow deeper structural problems hobbling the UK. Chief among them is productivity growth, which slowed to a crawl after the financial crisis in 2008 and 2009. Only Italy put in a worse performance. The gaps in performance within the UK are equally stark, with London consistently outperforming other regions, in part due to the concentration of financial services in the capital city. Johnson came to power in 2019 on a pledge to “level up” poorer parts of the country, but there are few signs that the policy is working. UK’s Boris Johnson suffers double by-election humiliation One explanation for the productivity gap is a lack of investment. British companies spend less on things like plants, machinery and technology than those in most other major economies. Brexit uncertainty also seems to have unsettled executives, with investment flatlining since the 2016 public vote to leave the European Union. Had they continued to spend as they did before the referendum, investment would be around 60 per cent higher today. Analysis shows the UK lagged behind the trade performance of other big nations before the pandemic, and has failed to fully share in the global trade rebound since then.