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U.K. suffered sharpest economic decline in three centuries

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Like many nations, the United Kingdom has been hit hard by COVID-19. Along with the tragic loss of life, there has been economic devastation. The U.K. government said the country is facing its worse recession since the Great Frost of 1709. Holly Williams reports.

Video Transcript

DANA JACOBSON: Like many nations, the United Kingdom has been hit hard by COVID-19. There is the tragic loss of life, about 100,000 people at last count. There's also the economic devastation, which is actually worse than here in the United States, or in many other developed nations. The biggest slowdown in more than 3 centuries. Holly Williams has the story from London.

HOLLY WILLIAMS: Good morning. The UK government says this country is facing its worst recession since the Great Frost of 1709, back when the American colonies were still British, and Benjamin Franklin was just three years old.

They've been trading at Borough Market for at least 800 years. It's still open, but now, on most days, it's close to deserted.

CHARLIE FOSTER: Almost crippling, really. We've had to be really careful and a bit inventive to survive.

HOLLY WILLIAMS: Charlie Foster's family has been selling fruit and vegetables in London for four generations, employing more than 50 people. But they've had to furlough half of them.

Are you confident that you can survive another year of this?

CHARLIE FOSTER: Another year? No. We wouldn't be able to survive that long.

HOLLY WILLIAMS: You'd go under. You'd go bankrupt.

CHARLIE FOSTER: Sure. Yeah.

HOLLY WILLIAMS: While the US economy shrank by 3 and 1/2% last year, the UK economy contracted by nearly 10%, and economists say it'll take longer to recover.

This food bank is in a wealthy part of central London, a stone's throw from fashionable boutiques and houses that sell for tens of millions of dollars. Many of the people receiving food here used to be middle class.

JANE AUSTIN: I never thought in my wildest dreams I'd ever come down here, having to come into a food bank. I used to give people money on the street.

HOLLY WILLIAMS: Jane Austin was a chef working in upscale venues before the pandemic hit. Now, she told us she has to choose between heating her apartment or buying food.

JANE AUSTIN: I felt embarrassed, to be quite honest. I felt-- It was one of my lowest points, to come and ask for food.

HOLLY WILLIAMS: And ironically, this food bank is in one of the wealthiest areas of London.

JANE AUSTIN: It's ironic. It's absolutely horrendous. I've paid taxes, and this is what I'm getting from my taxes, is just heartache and pain.

MIATTA FANBULLEH: It's breathtaking.

HOLLY WILLIAMS: Doctor Miatta Fanbulleh is an economist who told us the British government's slow response to the pandemic, along with Brexit, have created a perfect storm of economic pain.

MIATTA FANBULLEH: We have families that literally cannot feed their children. And I think, as we see more images of this, there will be a sense that our government are letting people down, and it is unacceptable.

HOLLY WILLIAMS: You're saying this could bring down the government?

MIATTA FANBULLEH: I think it's going to become a really thorny political issue for them.

HOLLY WILLIAMS: For the first time ever last year, UNICEF, the United Nations agency that gives humanitarian assistance to children, helped feed British children. One prominent member of the UK government called it a, quote, political stunt.

For CBS This Morning, Saturday, Holly Williams in London.

- Sounds like it's a necessary one, though. Thank you, Holly.