Chancellor Rishi Sunak has launched a passionate defence of last August’s Eat Out to Help Out (EOTHO) scheme after data revealed no link to rising Covid cases.
The extremely popular scheme which saw an estimated 85,000 eateries sign up selling over 100 million meals was launched in August 2020 to support the hospitality and on trade industry has come under fire in light of the deadly second wave.
EOTHO offered people the chance to get up to 50% off their food and drinks bill when dining in at participating restaurants.
The scheme ran each Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday throughout August, when diners could get a 50% discount on food or non-alcoholic drinks to eat or drink in, up to the value of £10 per head. Alcohol and service charges along with takeaway were not included as part of the deal.
Restaurant bookings surged during the scheme, especially on the final day, which prompted Chancellor Rishi Sunak to say: “From the get-go our mission has been to protect jobs, and to do this we needed to be creative, brave and try things that no government has ever done before. Today’s figures continue to show Eat Out to Help Out has been a success. I want to thank everyone, from restaurant owners to waiters, chefs and diners, for embracing it and helping drive our economic recovery.”
According to data from booking site OpenTable, restaurant reservations rose by 53% compared with the Monday-to-Wednesday period in August 2019.
However, the scheme came under criticism in October 2020 when a study alleged “the sharp increase in COVID-19 infection clusters emerged a week after the scheme began,” and that up to 17 percent of new infection clusters “could be linked to the scheme.” Moreover, areas where “there was a notable uptick” in Eat Out to Help Out claims saw a decline in new infections a week after the scheme drew to a close.
The study’s author, Dr Thiemo Fetzer said Eat Out to Help Out both “contributed to community transmission” and “the acceleration of the second wave.”
The study’s findings were subsequently disputed, UKHospitality said there were “huge question marks” around the data whose own research examined infection alerts across 14 weeks, revealed just 0.0003% of customers had notified businesses of Covid-19 cases.
In response to Dr Fetzer’s study the Treasury has commented: “We do not recognise these figures, which as the study itself admits, are ‘back-of-the-envelope’ calculations.”
Data published by the Treasury revealed that areas with the high take up of the scheme also had the low virus levels between August and October.
The Treasury said: “These figures confirm that take-up of Eat Out to Help Out does not correlate with incidence of Covid regionally – and indeed where it does the relationship is negative.”
A spokesman said: “As we have done throughout the pandemic, we have worked with creativity and at pace to support individuals and businesses.
“We designed The Eat Out to Help Out scheme to protect 2 million jobs in hospitality, an industry whose employees are at high risk of long-term unemployment in the event of redundancy.
“It protected jobs across the UK by bringing back 400,000 people from furlough while safely restoring consumer confidence.”