“The government encouraged us to Eat Out to Help Out, now I feel guilty for doing so”

The UK’s inflation rate is worryingly low after a month of 50% off at restaurants. Writer Megan Murray explores why these figures make her feel guilty for simply following the government’s advice.

It’s Wednesday, which means if you’re abreast of the restaurants still continuing the Eat Out to Help Out scheme into September, it could mean you’re looking forward to the last night of the week when you can enjoy a lovely meal out, often with up to £10 off the bill. 

I, like millions of other people around the country, certainly have been enjoying this discount, which was announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak on 8 July. With this, he said he wanted to encourage “customers back into restaurants, cafes and pubs” and protect “the 1.8 million people who work in them”.

For the last six weeks, I’ve joined my partner, friends and family in gleefully making reservations at our favourite restaurants – even those that would usually be a little too pricey – believing it was benefitting the economy, as well as getting us out the house. 

But today the headlines are blaring a different story and suddenly I feel embarrassed and guilty that I took advantage of this scheme, which has now caused inflation rates to drop to their lowest point in five years. 

If you’re not exactly on top of what inflation is and how it affects us (there’s no shame in it, I wasn’t sure either), BBC News explains it clearly and concisely by saying: “Inflation is the rate at which the prices for goods and services increase. It’s one of the key measures of financial wellbeing because it affects what consumers can buy for their money. If there is inflation, money doesn’t go as far.”

Although initially, this sounds like a bad thing we need inflation to go up over time because it typically encourages us to buy products sooner and keeps money going back into the ecnomoy, which means that wages can continue to rise and we maintain a high standard of living. Most countries’ central banks have an inflation target of between 2% and 2.5%.

In August the UK’s inflation rate dropped from 1%, right down to 0.2%. I’m no economist, but even I can gather that if we’re aiming for 2% as a country this is not good – at all.

Of course, this is big news. So it makes sense that news and social media feeds are full of headlines that condemn Eat Out to Help Out as the sole cause of this economic disaster. The subtext of this? That all of the people who took part in the scheme are at fault too. 

Reporting around the success of Eat Out to Help Out has shown diners in an excessive, indulgent light. At the end of August, for example, the Daily Mail proclaimed that diners had formed “hours-long queues” outside restaurants and commented that people they had interviewed said they would “eat as much as possible” as the official scheme came to a close. 

Now that the economy is in trouble, it feels like the finger is being pointed at ‘punters’ who, let’s remember, were told that this initiative was for the benefit of the hospitality industry and would be a financial saving grace after the impact of coronavirus. 

My question is: why didn’t someone think about this before? Surely, there are, y’know, a few economists knocking around parliament who might have been able to anticipate this sort of thing?

Perhaps, if a scheme of this magnitude was to be launched, and heralded as a financial lift for the hospitality industry, someone who was part of that decision might have tracked forward a few months to predict what the knock-on effect might be.

Instead, it looks like we’ve arrived at another baffling situation after months of no consistency except for continuous confusion. We’ve seen this through the pandemic already, from blaming young people for going out while simultaneously encouraging people to put money back into hospitality and promises of more Covid tests while complaining that too many people want to take those tests. 

Personally, my head is spinning. I feel guilty for doing something my government advised, even though I know I shouldn’t. None of us should. And yet as we face a further strain on the economy it’s hard to have much faith in how we’re going to get out of it.

Images: Getty Images

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