Rishi Sunak: Eat Out to Help Out criticism 'doesn't quite stack up'

6 October 2020, 09:56 | Updated: 6 October 2020, 09:58

By Maddie Goodfellow

Rishi Sunak has defended Eat Out to Help Out amid a rise in Covid-19 cases across the UK, saying criticism of the scheme "doesn't quite stack up".

The Chancellor encouraged Brits to head back to pubs and restaurants over the summer with the promise of discounted meals during August.

The government set aside £500m to fund Eat Out to Help Out in a bid to kickstart the economy after about 80 per cent of hospitality firms stopped trading in April and 1.4 million workers were furloughed.

However, it has since been criticised after pubs, bars and restaurants were handed a 10pm curfew as a reaction to the second wave of cases hitting the UK.

Read more: Testing scandal: ‘IT failure’ blamed as thousands still to be traced

Read more: Rishi Sunak has confidence in test and trace chief after 'missing cases' scandal

Over the weekend Boris Johnson praised the scheme for protecting jobs, but suggested new measures were needed to "counteract" the possible impact of the scheme on the spread of transmission.

However, speaking to Nick Ferrari on LBC, Mr Sunak praised the scheme and said criticisms "don't quite stack up".

When questioned by Nick over the success of the scheme and whether it contributed to the second wave, Mr Sunak said: "In so far as that general hospitality is a source of the spread then of course it is right that we should look at the measures that we put in place now to curtail that.

"But I think more generally if you look at what is going on then we're seeing a rise in cases, a second wave, and that's in common with most other countries around the world.

"Whether it's France, or Spain, in fact our scientists said we are on exactly the same curve as those other countries.

Mr Sunak also highlighted how the South West had seen the greatest use of the Eat Out To Help Out scheme, in proportion to the size of the local population, and is now the region with the lowest rate of Covid-19 transmission.

"And then on a more granular level, you look at areas like the South West, where Eat Out to Help Out was used perhaps the most, it was very popular there, and it is the region in the country with the lowest rates of coronavirus and the lowest rate of transmissions.

"So it doesn't quite stack up in that regard."

Restaurants claimed more than 100 million meals under the Eat Out to Help Out scheme during August, Treasury figures show.

Diners got a state-backed 50 per cent discount on meals and soft drinks up to £10 each on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays during August.

Read more: University cities 'on the brink' of local lockdown following test and trace error

Read more: Surgeons warn of 'tsunami' of cancelled operations due to Covid-19

The Treasury said restaurants made 130,000 claims worth £522m, figures likely to rise as outlets have until the end of September to claim.

Restaurant bookings surged during the scheme, especially on the final day.

Between 10 August and 20 September, Public Health England (PHE) said that - among people who tested positive for COVID-19 - eating out was the most commonly reported activity in the two to seven days prior to the onset of symptoms.