A promotional sign is seen at a supermarket in Reading, Britain, Aug. 21, 2022. (Photo by Tim Ireland/Xinhua)

LONDON – Retail sales have been falling and consumer confidence has hit record low levels in the United Kingdom (UK) due to the country's persistently high inflation rate, fresh surveys showed on Friday.

The volume of retail sales fell in all the main sectors (food stores, non-food stores, non-store retailing, and fuel) by 1.4 percent in September, making it 1.3 percent below pre-COVID-19 February 2020 levels, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said on Friday.

The only sub-sector to buck the trend was clothing and footwear stores.

In the three months to September, sales volumes fell by 2.0 percent when compared with the previous three months, continuing the downward trend seen since summer 2021.

"Retail sales continued to fall in September after a weak August, and consumers are now buying less than before the pandemic," ONS Director of Economic Statistics Darren Morgan said.

According to retailers, the fall in September was partly due to the store closures following the death of Queen Elizabeth II, but also to the continued price pressures leading consumers to be conscious about spending, Morgan added.

Also on Friday, the market research company GfK said its consumer confidence index for the UK increased two points in October to minus 47 as consumers were grappling amid uncertainty and turmoil.

UK consumer confidence continued to bump along close to September's historic low, with all core measures remaining severely depressed, GfK Client Strategy Director Joe Staton said.

The biggest danger by far is inflation, he noted.

"Households are not just running scared of burgeoning energy and food prices, and the prospect of further base rate rises increasing mortgage costs. They are now facing the likelihood of tax rises and even austerity measures."

The negative environment will deflate future spending plans, and cautious consumers could easily slow the UK economy still further, Staton added.

Pushed up by rising food prices, the UK's Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose by 10.1 percent in the 12 months to September, up from 9.9 percent in August and returning to July's 40-year high.

Amid soaring prices, a worsening cost-of-living crisis is already visible.

A survey published on Friday by the UK financial regulator Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) found that 7.8 million people are finding it a heavy burden to keep up with their bills, an increase of around 2.5 million people since 2020.

Conducted between February and June this year, the survey showed one in four UK adults are in financial difficulty or could quickly find themselves in difficulty if they suffered a financial shock, and 4.2 million people have missed bills or loan payments in at least three of the six months before the survey was conducted. (Xinhua)