LONDON, July 8 (Reuters) - Britain’s government will hand out vouchers worth 500 million pounds ($625 million) to the public to boost spending at restaurants, cafes and pubs that have been hit hard by the COVID-19 lockdown, finance minister Rishi Sunak said on Wednesday.
For the month of August everyone in the country will be given an “Eat Out to Help Out discount” voucher, Sunak told parliament during a statement on the outlook for the economy.
Meals eaten at any participating business, Monday to Wednesday, will be 50% off, up to a maximum discount of 10 pounds per head for everyone, including children, he said, noting such a stimulus measure had never been tried in the United Kingdom before.
The vouchers cannot be used to buy alcohol.
Britain’s foodservice industry, which employed 1.8 million people before the crisis, has suffered thousands of job cuts, with layoffs announced by firms including the owner of the Upper Crust and Caffe Ritazza chains and Pret A Manger.
Pubs and restaurants have so far seen only around half their customers return as lockdown measures have been partially relaxed in recent days.
Sunak said participating businesses that register online can claim the money back on a weekly basis, with reimbursement taking just five working days.
He also announced a temporary cut in VAT sales tax from 20% to 5% for eat-in or hot takeaway food from restaurants, cafes and pubs.
Kate Nicholls, chief executive of industry lobby group UKHospitality, welcomed the announcements.
“A really strong package of measures to support the hospitality and tourism sector,” she tweeted. (Reporting by James Davey and David Milliken; editing by Stephen Addison)