Sunak considered giving every adult a prepaid card during pandemic

Rishi Sunak considered giving every adult in the UK a prepaid debit card to help boost the economy during the pandemic, Treasury official claims

  • Rishi Sunak, then Chancellor, considered the step to boost hospitality venues
  • The revelation was made by a senior Treasury official to the Covid-19 inquiry
  • The Prime Minister subsequently unveiled the Eat Out to Help Out scheme

Rishi Sunak considered sending every UK adult a prepaid debit card to help boost the economy during the pandemic, a Treasury insider claimed.

The then-Chancellor allegedly floated the idea as part of efforts to stimulate the beleaguered hospitality industry, which was hammered when venues such as pubs and restaurants were ordered to close as Covid cases soared in 2020.

Mr Sunak subsequently unveiled the Eat Out To Help Out scheme, where the Government offered a subsidy of up to £10 per customer off dine-in meals on certain days in August that year.

The scheme was seen as a fillip by industry bosses, but was derided by scientists who feared it would send infections soaring.

It has since emerged that Mr Sunak considered other financial stimuli for the hospitality sector – including prepaid credit cards.

Rishi Sunak, who was Chancellor during the Covid-19 pandemic, is said to have considered giving all UK adults a prepaid debit card to stimulate the hospitality sector

The revelation about Rishi Sunak came at the Covid-19 inquiry, to which the now Prime Minister gave evidence earlier this month

A witness statement to the Covid-19 Inquiry from Dan York-Smith, a senior official at the Treasury, said the idea was aborted amid concerns tens of millions of taxpayers’ cash could be intercepted by thieves.

He said: ‘The first option, namely the distribution of prepaid debit cards, presented substantial challenges and risks.

‘For example, registering every adult in the UK would have presented very significant challenges in the time available.

‘Even if that could be achieved, there would have been significant risks associated with tens of millions of cards being distributed through the post as part of a highly publicised and marketed scheme, such as theft, fraud and loss.

‘That was a risk that [was] also attached to sending out vouchers by post.

‘A substantial customer support function would also have been required, which did not exist.

‘The compressed timetable of the scheme increased the significance of these challenges.’

Mr Sunak staunchly defended Eat Out To Help Out when quizzed at the inquiry earlier this month.

He said the scheme was in ‘no way responsible’ for a second wave of Covid, that he ‘didn’t believe it was a risk’ and that ‘it was the right thing to do to safeguard jobs’.

The Prime Minister insisted his approach was a matter of ‘social justice’ and provided a boost to hard-hit industries.

Mr York-Smith’s witness statement, only published this week, shows Mr Sunak also considered extending the scheme in Aberdeen for September, after a localised lockdown meant residents were unable to benefit for the majority of August.

However, the plan was shelved.

The inquiry is taking a break until the New Year when it will consider the pandemic response in the devolved nations.

The probe is not expected to conclude its public hearings until 2026.

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