Wet weather keeps cloud over UK spending in May

A person holds a shopping bag on Oxford Street in London

By David Milliken

LONDON (Reuters) - Wet weather and ongoing cost-of-living pressures kept a cloud over British consumers in May, with one survey showing the weakest spending growth in more than three years.

Barclays said spending on its customers' debit and credit cards was only 1.0% higher than a year earlier, slowing from 1.6% annual growth the month before and the weakest increase since February 2021.

Also on Tuesday, The British Retail Consortium trade body said sales at its members' stores grew 0.7% on an annual basis, up from April's 4.0% fall but much weaker than the 3.9% growth a year earlier.

Neither the Barclays nor the BRC data is adjusted for inflation - which was 2.3% in April - so the volume of goods and services purchased in May likely fell.

During May parts of England received a month's rain in a single day, Met Office data showed, keeping shoppers at home, and overall rainfall was 16% higher than average across the United Kingdom as a whole.

"Despite a strong bank holiday weekend for retailers, minimal improvement to weather across most of May meant only a modest rebound in retail sales last month," BRC Chief Executive Helen Dickinson said.

Britain's economy was in a shallow recession in the second half of last year but recorded strong quarterly growth of 0.6% in the first three months of this year.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak last month called an election for July 4 - contrary to widespread expectations that he would wait until October or November - which some analysts said reflected a view that voters would feel no better off later this year.

Barclays said 87% of consumers it surveyed were concerned about higher household bills, especially council tax, broadband and mobile bills and water charges. Almost half of consumers said they were reducing discretionary spending, for example by spending less on summer clothing.

Barclays' data was based on spending between April 20 and May 17, while the BRC figures covered April 28 to May 25.

(Reporting by David Milliken; Editing by William Schomberg)