The government has revealed the 10 areas where its controversial “Eat Out to Help Out” scheme was used most, two days after Boris Johnson said he would take “full responsibility” for decisions made during the pandemic.
Throughout August, when coronavirus infections were low, Eat Out to Help Out was chancellor Rishi Sunak’s flagship policy to boost an economy damaged by the first national lockdown.
On Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, diners in participating restaurants got a 50% discount on food and non-alcoholic drinks. The offer could be used on unlimited occasions.
Figures released by the government on Thursday showed just how popular the scheme was, with a total 106,533,154 discounted meals claimed across the UK on the 13 eligible days in August.
Following the winter COVID-19 crisis, however, Eat Out to Help Out has increasingly been blamed as one factor behind the increase in infections which began in September.
On Tuesday, after COVID deaths passed 100,000 in the UK, Boris Johnson promised to take “full responsibility for everything the government has done” during the pandemic, with the prime minister saying “we did everything we could” to restrict the virus.
Watch: Boris Johnson takes ‘full responsibility’ as UK deaths top 100,000
Here are the 10 parliamentary constituencies where the most meals were claimed in businesses with 25 or fewer outlets:
Cities of London and Westminster: 1,875,000
Manchester Central: 882,000
Liverpool, Riverside: 854,000
Birmingham, Ladywood: 800,000
Glasgow Central: 728,000
Holborn and St Pancras: 681,000
Bristol West: 618,000
Belfast South: 606,000
Bethnal Green and Bow: 587,000
Leeds Central: 534,000
On 30 October, research by the University of Warwick claimed between 8% and 17% of new COVID infection clusters could have been attributed to the scheme.
Dr Thiemo Fetzer, the report author, said at the time: “This strongly suggests that the link between Eat Out to Help Out and new COVID-19 infections is causal. When people were not dining out as part of the scheme there were fewer new cases of the virus.
“Eat Out to Help Out may in the end have been a false economy, one that subsidised the spread of the pandemic into autumn and contributed to the start of the second wave.”
The government is now facing criticism from MPs on both sides of the parliamentary divide.
At Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, Labour’s Angela Eagle asked Johnson if he was “proud” of the scheme in light of the winter crisis.
And on Tuesday, senior Conservative backbencher Tobias Ellwood agreed Eat Out to Help Out contributed to the death toll – though he pointed out “tough decisions” are made by all governments “trying to balance tackling COVID-19 while keeping the economy open”.
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