The consumer-led recovery is picking up speed and helping to drive the economy back up towards its previous peak, official data showed yesterday.
The Office for National Statistics estimated that quarterly GDP grew by 0.8 per cent in the three months to March, an annual growth rate of 3.1 per cent and the fifth successive quarter of growth.
"Overall, the economy is now only 0.6 per cent below the pre-recession peak at the beginning of 2008," said the ONS chief economist Joe Grice. Analysts expect the gap to be fully closed in the next quarter.
The strongest expansion came from the services sector, which grew by 0.9 per cent in the quarter. That trend is reinforced today by the latest GfK Consumer Confidence survey, which shows the public's sentiment improved again in April.
The main index fell from minus 5 to minus 3, its highest level since June 2007. The public were more optimistic about the general economic situation over the coming year and said the likelihood of them making a major purchase was also higher.
"The seemingly inexorable rise of the index continues alongside a number of other economic indicators that continue to provide good news for the government," said Nick Moon, managing director of social research at GfK. Another survey of consumer confidence by Nielsen released today shows 36 per cent of the public feel positive about their job prospects, the highest since 2007.
George Osborne yesterday said the latest GDP figures provided more evidence that "Britain is coming back" and that "the foundations for a broad-based recovery are now in place". However, his Labour shadow, Ed Balls, said: "Millions of hardworking people are still feeling no recovery at all."