Britain's return to recession is "very, very disappointing", Prime Minister David Cameron has said, but he insisted the Government will stick to its programme of austerity and deficit reduction.
The Office for National Statistics announced the 0.2% decline in gross domestic product (GDP) in the first quarter of the year which, after a fall of 0.3% the previous quarter, has triggered the UK's first double-dip recession since the 1970s.
Labour leader Ed Miliband told the House of Commons that the figures were proof that the Government's plan has failed, describing the downturn as "a recession made by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor in Downing Street".
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"Over the last 18 months since his catastrophic spending review, our economy has shrunk," Mr Miliband said at Prime Minister's Questions. "The reality is that it is families and businesses who are paying the price for his arrogance and complacency."
Mr Cameron responded: "These are very, very disappointing figures. Let me be absolutely clear. There is no complacency at all in this Government in dealing with what is a very tough situation, which frankly has just got tougher. It is very difficult recovering from the deepest recession in living memory, accompanied as it was by a debt crisis."
He added: "We have got to rebalance our economy, we need a bigger private sector, we need more exports, more investment. This is painstaking, difficult work but we will stick to our plans, stick with low interest rates and do everything we can to boost growth, competitiveness and jobs in our country."
A slide in construction output and a stagnant services sector have been blamed for the decline in GDP. Responding to the preliminary estimate from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), Chancellor George Osborne admitted the recovery was taking longer than hoped but said he would not change course on his austerity drive.
Experts said the first-quarter figure, which compared with City forecasts for growth of 0.1%, painted an unduly pessimistic view of the economy and there is a danger that the UK's recession tag could damage confidence and prompt firms to rein in spending at a time when growth is needed.
But Chris Williamson, chief economist at Markit, said: "The underlying strength of the economy is probably much more robust than these data suggest.
"The danger is that these gloomy data deliver a fatal blow to the fragile revival of consumer and business confidence seen so far this year, harming the recovery and even sending the country back into a real recession."