‘Indulging in dining out to support the economy’ had negative implications on our well-being.

We know pandemics are detrimental to the economy, but Rishi Sunak’s plan to stimulate spending disregarded medical advice, according to Michael Clerx. Letters from Angelique Fairbrass and Bridget MacDonald also express concern.

I was amazed to read Larry Elliott’s suggestion that “Eat out to help out” was only a bad idea “with the benefit of hindsight”, when its primary impact, felt throughout the country, was signaling the end of a coordinated government response. Instead, we were given a first glimpse of Rishi Sunak’s hidden neoliberalism: our taxes were returned to us and we were told to go to the pub – or not – while the market would somehow fix everything. The announcement immediately shifted the conversation from “have you heard the latest guidelines?” to “what rules are you still following?”. It became clear that the government was fragmented, with certain parts no longer interested in a collective approach or heeding expert advice. We were left to fend for ourselves.

There was no justification for the Treasury to join in with its own foolish ideas. Yes, foolish. Viruses spread through interactions. Lockdowns reduce interactions. We all understand that pandemics are harmful to the economy, but that doesn’t make it “right” or “reasonable” for the Treasury to defy public health advice in the midst of a pandemic.

Michael Clerx

It is not a hindsight observation to say that “Eat out to help out” was a poor idea from a health standpoint. It was criticized by epidemiologists and others at the time. One of the concerns raised was that the scheme would disproportionately force people from minority ethnic communities, who had higher rates of Covid mortality, back into work. If these individuals were on furlough, returning to work may not have benefited them economically or medically.

A much better use of the money spent on “Eat out to help out” would have been to install filtration systems in schools during the initial lockdown to allow for earlier reopening. If schools had been able to fully reopen sooner, the impact on the economy and educational outcomes would have been reduced.

Angelique Fairbrass
Prenton, Merseyside

Larry Elliott claims that lockdowns were “untried and untested” before Italy implemented one in March 2020. However, lockdowns and quarantine measures have been used for centuries. An excellent example would be the outcomes of the 1918 influenza pandemic, which resulted in roughly a quarter of the population of Western Samoa succumbing to the disease – the highest death rate recorded. Despite the close cultural ties with the New Zealand-governed colony, American Samoa successfully prevented the infection for years. It was the largest known territory to avoid any pandemic-related deaths, thanks to Commandant John Poyer, who implemented a quarantine against all incoming traffic in October 1918.

The UK’s Covid outcomes are intertwined with the persisting social and economic disadvantages and disparities. On 1 August 2020, during BBC Radio 4’s Today program, Prof Graham Medley, when discussing various forms of reopening, stated: “It might come down to a question of which do you trade off against each other…do we think pubs are more important than schools?” In terms of long-term outcomes for the socially disadvantaged, many would argue that education is more fundamental than returning to the minimum wage a few weeks earlier.

Dr Bridget MacDonald

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