There is a great interest in data that can provide timely information on the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic on the economy and ultimately the living standards and wellbeing of the population.
One of the challenges is that, unlike many of the health measures that can be used to track the impact of the virus (such as hospital admissions etc.), economy measures aren’t as straightforward to collect or interpret.
Indeed, and unfortunately, traditional economic statistics, such as GDP, often aren’t the most useful at such times. They are published with a lag, they are built upon ‘sectors’ as defined by national accounts rather than type of business activity (which is most relevant for social distancing), and they are subject to a greater margin of estimation error than normal.
Moreover, the nature of this crisis means that we will see large swings in such measures. It’ll be important to interpret them carefully and to avoid reading too much into one month or quarter of data, but instead to look at the longer-term trend.
For example there is usually a reasonable link between movements in aggregate output and in overall employment, but we know that GDP is taking a hit through the present crisis while its effect on employment (which we care more about in many ways) is being cushioned through the policy measures that have been adopted.
Traditional economic statistics also don’t measure things that might be of particular interest to policymakers at the current time, for example the risk of collapse and insolvency.
So instead, we have to rely upon different types of data and information gathering to build up a picture of the economy.
Here we produce a summary of some of the data for Scotland and highlight key gaps.