The United Kingdom has confounded expectations by sliding back into recession, according to official figures revealing that even the painfully slow recovery eked out since the 2008-'09 economic crisis has disappeared. And analysts say Prime Minister David Cameron’s government has few good options available to spur recovery.

Wednesday’s numbers show the U.K. entering double-dip territory — where the economy suffers a new recession before output has recovered from the last one — for the first time since the crisis years of the 1970s.

“This is a worse performance for the economy than the Great Depression of the 1930s”, said George Buckley, chief U.K. economist at Deutsche Bank in London. “Fiscal austerity, private sector debt reduction, European sovereign uncertainty and sticky inflation all present challenges to the recovery.”

The 0.2 percent fall in output for the first quarter of this year, which followed a 0.3 percent decline in the previous three months, shocked many economists in the City of London — most of whom had predicted a small rise. Several responded by suggesting the precipitous 3 percent fall in construction activity — the main driver behind the overall decline for the economy as a whole — might be revised in future months to show a less severe slide.

Economists acknowledge, however, that regardless of later revisions that may or may not show a narrow escape from recession, the gross domestic product (GDP) figures confirm a distressing picture: The U.K.’s recovery from the severe downturn that ended three years ago has been extremely disappointing. In addition to the fall in construction, industrial production declined by 0.4 percent, and the huge service sector rose by only 0.1 percent.

Deutsche Bank noted that in the past, output has bounced back with a vengeance following recessions to grow at about 3 percent a year. This is above the long-run trend of growth of the U.K. economy, which is around 2 percent. However, Deutsche calculates that since the previous recession ended in mid-2009, growth has averaged only 1.1 percent.

This is partly because government departments and households are trying, at the same time as each other, to reduce high debts accumulated in earlier years.

The euro zone debt crisis has imposed an added burden — depressing demand in a 17-member currency bloc that accounts for about half of U.K. exports. Many economists think the euro zone also returned to recession in the first quarter.