4th March 2023
Rishi Sunak’s flagship scheme during lockdown to rescue restaurants was ridiculed by Matt Hancock, who called it “eat out to help the virus get about”.
Hancock’s files leaked to the Daily Telegraph, show the then health secretary’s disdain for the initiative and his private concerns that it was spreading Covid. The messages obtained reveal the deep concern over Eat Out to Help Out, part of a package of measures launched by Sunak, then the chancellor, in the summer of 2020.
Hancock also lobbied Simon Case, at the time the permanent secretary in Downing Street in charge of the civil service response to the virus, to ensure the scheme – which ran for a month in August 2000 – was not extended. The health secretary told Case he had “kept it out of the news” that the scheme was driving up Covid cases in some of the worst hit areas and that the problems it was causing were “serious”.
Eat Out to Help Out offered diners 50% off food and non-alcoholic drinks on Mondays to Wednesdays, capped at £10 per head. The final total cost to the taxpayer was £849m – way in excess of the £500m originally forecast by the Treasury.