Former Chancellor and current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak have robustly defended the 2020 Eat Out to Help Out initiative. Speaking at the Covid inquiry on December 11, he emphasised the scheme's role in safeguarding the jobs of millions during the height of the pandemic.
Scheme's Inception and Safety Measures
Launched in August 2020, Eat Out to Help Out aimed to rejuvenate the hospitality sector by encouraging dining out early in the week. Sunak outlined that the scheme was primarily a job protection measure. He dismissed concerns about its potential to escalate Covid cases, noting that such issues were not flagged during its planning phase.
Significantly, a month-long gap between the policy's announcement and implementation allowed ample time for expert consultations. Sunak highlighted that three key meetings involving government officials, the chief scientific adviser, and the chief medical officer occurred post-announcement, with no raised objections to the scheme.
Focus on Vulnerable Populations
The inquiry also shed light on Sunak's focus on vulnerable populations. He pointed out that the hospitality sector employed many at-risk individuals whose jobs were the scheme's priority. Sunak cited comprehensive data and international trends to support this targeted intervention. The scheme was never intended to be permanent, as Sunak underscored its design to prompt a temporary behavioural change, aligning with the treasury's cautious approach towards temporary, costly measures.
Previous Government's Stance
Sunak's statements align with former Prime Minister Boris Johnson's recent defence of the scheme, who also refuted claims of it contributing significantly to Covid case surges.
The ongoing inquiry aims to unravel the complexities of pandemic-era governance decisions.
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