Official figures on economic growth due out today are expected to show that the UK has slumped further into recession, with national output slowing sharply during the first three months of the year.
First-quarter GDP figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) will turn a fresh spotlight on Alistair Darling, the Chancellor, who used the Budget this week to predict that the economy would begin to grow again at the end of the year.
Estimates before today's ONS figures show that the economy is expected to have shrunk by between 1.5 per cent and 1.7 per cent between January and March, following on from a 1.6 per cent contraction in the fourth quarter of 2008.
The technical definition of a recession is two consecutive quarters of contraction in GDP.
While delivering the Budget on Wednesday, Mr Darling predicted that the economy shrank by 1.6 per cent in the first quarter of the year.
The UK is already in the deepest recession since the Second World War, with manufacturing deep in the doldrums and the construction and services sectors struggling against sliding demand.
The CBI, the employers group, is the most bearish forecaster. It believes that first-quarter output will have fallen by 1.8 per cent.
The Chancellor said on Wednesday that he expected the economy to shrink by 3.5 per cent this year — the worst decline since 1946 — but return to growth of 1.25 per cent in 2010.
However, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates that UK output will shrink by 4.1 per cent in 2009 and will continue to contract in 2010 at 0.4 per cent.
Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the managing director of the IMF, warned again yesterday that the global economic crisis was far from over.
He said: “Despite some red lights and green lights ... our belief is the crisis is far from over. We have long months of economic stress in front of us.”
Mr Strauss-Kahn said that governments in Europe and America had to do more to shore up their banking systems if the crisis were to abate next year.
“You never recover before you complete the cleaning-up of the balance sheet of the financial sector,” he said.
“Already a lot has been done, but not enough, not enough in old advanced economies.”