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Britain's economy is in its second recession since the financial crisis, data showed on Wednesday, heaping pressure on Prime Minister David Cameron's coalition government as it battles a series of political embarrassments.
The unexpected contraction in the first three months of 2012 - a 0.2 percent dip in gross domestic product - confounded forecasts for 0.1 percent growth.
It came as Britain's Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition has seen its support slide in opinion polls following weeks of fierce criticism for unpopular tax measures in last month's budget. Local elections, a big test, are on May 3.
The government is also under fire over revelations about its close relationship with media tycoon Rupert Murdoch.
The Office for National Statistics said Britain's gross domestic product fell 0.2 percent in the first quarter of 2012 after contracting by 0.3 percent at the end of 2011.
Most economists had expected Britain's economy to eke out modest growth in early 2012, but these forecasts were upset by the biggest fall in construction output in three years coupled with anaemic service sector growth and a fall in industrial output.
Britain has been pushed into its first double-dip recession since the 1970s, after a sharp fall in construction output saw the economy contract by 0.2pc in the first three months of the year.
The contraction was driven by a 3pc fall in construction output, while Britain's services sector, which drives 75pc of the economy, grew by just 0.1pc over the period, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
Most economists had predicted growth of 0.1pc, following a 0.3pc contraction in the final three months of 2011.
The shock fall in output is a blow for Chancellor George Osborne, who has come under intense pressure over his austerity drive.
In a statement, Mr Osborne said: "It's a very tough economic situation. It's taking longer than anyone hoped to recover from the biggest debt crisis of our lifetime.
"The one thing that would make the situation even worse would be to abandon our credible plan and deliberately add more borrowing and even more debt."
The figures also fly in the face of several closely-watched surveys that suggested that the UK had narrowly avoided a double-dip.