Subsidise eating in, not eating out

A picture of an illuminated "Eat Out to Help Out" poster featuring a Black woman holding a plate of food. The poster is next to a 40mph speed limit sign on a dual carriageway; it is twilight and headlights can be seen.
An Eat Out to Help Out poster from August 2020, Sheffield

There was talk yesterday that the “Eat Out to Help Out” scheme, which ran through August and saw restaurants subsidised to offer a substantial discount on meals eaten in on weekdays, might be revived at some point this winter. Currently, England is under a semi-lockdown in which people are expected to stay at home except for a fairly liberal list of excuses; in Kingston today, most of the shops were shut, but cafes and food stalls were operating and the streets were fairly busy, in stark contrast to March and April during which streets were deserted and everything except food shops and pharmacies were closed. While the talk may be just rumours (though yesterday the chancellor refused to rule it out), I am going to set out why I believe this scheme should not be revived until well into next year when a vaccine may well have reduced the risk of catching the virus somewhat, and even then not in the same form as it previously took.

Many key workers, and others who worked outside and could not work from home, work irregular shifts, often long shifts that go through all the hours where one would normally eat lunch and dinner and which are often long and tiring. I’m a lorry driver; I help deliver a lot of the stuff ordered online. My shift tomorrow, for example, starts at 10:35am and finishes after 11pm. Very often, I will start in the mid-morning (7 or 8am) and not finish until 11 or 12 hours later, and I will be an hour’s drive from home and tired, and before Coronavirus happened I would have headed straight for a cheap Indian restaurant and had a curry or a biryani. These days, I can’t do that because they are all offering takeaway only, as per the law. However, during August I was able to do this to a limited extent, but much less so on Mondays, Tuesdays or Wednesdays as families crowded restaurants for their subsidised half-price meal. If I had been able to get a table, I would have been at increased risk of infection or might have been exposed but not infected, requiring me to isolate myself for two weeks and go without work.

This was the height of stupidity even in August. If the government wanted to help struggling restaurants, they should have subsidised the takeaways or home delivered meals so that people with homes to go back to could have got their food and gone there and eaten it and those of us who needed somewhere to get a meal after work could have eaten without putting ourselves at undue risk. (They could also get rid of the needless traffic obstructions that have been imposed in some areas like Tooting where you can’t turn into most of the roads where there’s parking, but although these were also subsidised, the decisions were made by local councils or mayors.)

Image source: Tim Dennell. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial (BY-NC) 2.0 licence.

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