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Britain has now been in recession for over a year.Why has it happened now after more than a decade and a half of steady growth? When is the economy likely to turn around and recovery begin? How can policymakers respond most effectively, on a global scale as well as nationally? And what are the effects – both now and in the future – on jobs, on businesses and on people’s lives?

This report explores what can be learned from evidence on previous recessions: the three that Britain has experienced most recently – in the mid- 1970s, the early 1980s and the early 1990s – as well as recessions elsewhere in the world, and the global recessionary period to which current times have often been compared, the 1930s.

The report draws on analysis of a broad range of data sources and the work of numerous researchers and research institutions, many of them centres, programmes and individual scholars funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). It also refers to some of the findings presented at a series of policy seminars and public discussion meetings on the recession, which the ESRC has hosted around the country during the first half of 2009.

It is tempting to use the experiences of previous recessions as a guide to the likely impact of the current recession. But given the severity of this recession – and its origins and continued problems in financial markets – the past may not necessarily be the best guide to the future.While research can reveal the ‘average’ impact of previous recessions on people’s jobs, businesses and daily lives, it is as valuable to explore differences between those experiences as to examine the similarities.

Romesh Vaitilingam
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