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10.5 Million Eat Out to Help Out Meals Will Support Restaurants, But Won’t Save Them

Chancellor Rishi Sunak hails it “amazing”, but deeper problems for restaurants and their workers cannot be obscured

BRITAIN-HEALTH-VIRUS-RETAIL-RESTAURANTS TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images

The government’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme has been used by over 10.5 million people in its first week, according to the Treasury. The discount scheme, designed to support restaurants forced to close for almost four months as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, offers guests 50 percent off restaurant bills up to the value of £10, Monday through to Wednesday in the month of August.

The Treasury yesterday said that 10,540,394 covers had been claimed in the scheme’s first week, as of Sunday 9 August, with the average claim at £5. To date, HMRC reports 83,068 restaurants signed up to the scheme, spanning high street chains, Michelin-starred restaurants, and independents, including some of London’s best and most popular. The government is anticipating an additional 50,000 restaurants to take part in the scheme before the end of the month, having put aside £500 million to fund the scheme.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak, who announced the scheme with a photo opportunity at Wagamama, said yesterday that “Britons are eating out to help out in big numbers. And they aren’t just getting a great deal — they’re supporting the almost 2 million people employed in this sector. These amazing figures show that our plan for jobs is delivering.”

But any short-term optimism brought by the scheme is tempered by the realities facing the restaurant industry: firstly, Eat Out to Help Out will itself end on the 31 August. But more significantly, 22,000 restaurant workers have already lost their jobs. Some 1.4 million in the hospitality sector have been furloughed over the course of lockdown and reopening, with 80 percent of wages paid by the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS), more than in any other industry. On the 31 October, the government will stop supporting those workers whose restaurants have been closed, or operating at a reduced capacity since reopening. For the moment, the CJRS is obscuring what many predict will be an unemployment crisis in the autumn and winter. Employment in the U.K. has already fallen by the biggest amount in a decade, with BBC News reporting this morning that those in work fell by 220,000 in the first quarter of this year.

Whether the government does more to aid the hospitality industry in the medium- and long-term remains to be seen, but it says the health of the sector could be key to the overall economic recovery of the country. The Guardian cites data from Resolution Foundation, which indicates that after the 2008 crash, hospitality generated “22 percent of new jobs for unemployed people in 2010 and 2011, despite accounting for just 10 percent of overall employment.”

To compound matters for restaurants, at the end of September, landlords will no longer be prevented from evicting tenants that have been unable to pay their bills because of COVID-19. It is why those who speak on behalf of the industry are now calling for more far-reaching, long-term solutions — specifically, urgent financial support from the government on rent.

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