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Eat Out To Help Out: Britons dine out on $700 million of Treasury program amid pandemic

Britons ate more than 100 million taxpayer-subsidized restaurant meals last month as a Treasury program to boost the hospitality industry exceeded the U.K. government’s estimate.

More than 522 million pounds ($692 million) was claimed by 84,700 establishments under Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak’s “Eat Out to Help Out” initiative to boost a sector struggling in the pandemic. That sum, which is expected to grow because restaurants have until the end of September to claim the subsidies, already surpasses the Treasury’s 500 million-pound estimate when the plan was announced in July.

U.K. Plan to Help Restaurants May Cost More Than Estimated

“From the get-go our mission has been to protect jobs, and to do this we needed to be creative, brave and try things that no government has ever done before,” Sunak said in a statement. “We will continue to protect, support and create jobs to ensure we come back stronger as a nation.”

Sunak said the program, under which the government paid 50% of the price of a meal up to a maximum of 10 pounds, helped to protect 1.8 million jobs. The data published on Friday are likely to fuel the view that while the government has been criticized in other areas of its handling of the pandemic, the economic measures have been more positively received.

Spending More

Data from Barclaycard Payments on Wednesday showed spending in U.K. restaurants and fast-food outlets was up more than a third on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays in August — the days the program was operational — compared with the same days in July. Expenditure was also up on other days, suggesting the offer had increased public confidence in eating out.

Some restaurants have called for “Eat Out to Help Out” to be extended, but just as he has with other support programs, Sunak has stuck to the original timing.

The government has also begun winding down its flagship furlough program, under which the Treasury has paid up to 80% of the wages of more than 9 million workers. From Tuesday, employers started paying 10% of furloughed workers’ pay, ratcheting up to 20% on Oct. 1.

At the end of October, the program will end all together, a deadline that’s sparked predictions that unemployment will surge to 3 million people as businesses unable to reopen fully are forced to shed workers.

(This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text. Only the headline has been changed.)

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