Rishi Sunak: “My primary concern was protecting millions of jobs”

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Rishi Sunak: “My primary concern was protecting millions of jobs”

Related tags Eat Out To Help Out Restaurant Coronavirus Government Rishi Sunak lockdown Hospitality

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has defended the Eat Out to Help Out scheme he introduced in August 2020 as chancellor saying it was created to save the livelihoods of millions of people.

Giving evidence at the Covid inquiry today (11 December), Sunak said that the scheme, which was designed to encourage diners back into restaurants in the early part of the week, was created to save jobs and that any concerns over whether it might lead to an increase in cases of Covid were not raised at the time.

He said that there was almost a month between the announcement of the policy and it beginning, giving ministers and experts time to raise any concerns they may have had about it.

Three meetings were held on 16 July, 22 July and 6 August 2020 between the Government, the chief scientific adviser and the chief medical officer, after the announcement of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme, in which no concerns were raised, he said.

“Those three meetings all happened after the announcement of Eat Out to Help Out, all of them involved the chief scientific adviser and the chief medical officer. They considered specifically the forthcoming risks and in none of them was it raised by them as an issue.”

Helping vulnerable people

Speaking about the purpose of the scheme, Sunak told the inquiry that it was designed to help vulnerable people and their families.

“My primary concern was protecting millions of jobs, particularly vulnerable people who worked in this industry,” he said. 

"All the data, all the evidence and all the polling and all the input from those countries suggested that unless we did something many of those jobs would have been at risk with devastating consequences for those people and their families.”

He added that independent think tanks had discussed similar ideas and that other countries had introduced something similar to the scheme “because everyone was grappling with the same issue of how to ensure that those jobs are safeguarded”.

In response to whether there might have been a possible extension to the scheme, Sunak said the plan was always for it to be temporary.

“The primary motivation was that it was meant to be a temporary intervention because in order to elicit a behavioural response by definition what you want is for something to be temporary and credibly temporary.

"As a general rule the treasury was always wary of temporary things that cost money becoming permanent because that comes with significant fiscal implications.”

Last week then Prime Minister Boris Johnson also defended the scheme​ saying there was no ‘substantial evidence’ that it led to a rise in cases of Coronavirus.

The inquiry continues.

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