So George Osborne has caved into the demands of the health campaigners in announcing a sugar levy on sugary drinks from 2018. Bizarrely though, it won’t apply to all sugary drinks. Seemingly, some sugary drinks are more evil than others.
The announcement itself was a bit of a shocker for everyone, not least the Treasury’s own officials, some of whom didn’t even know about the plans until the day of the announcement. The conclusion we can draw from this is that this policy announcement will go down as one of the biggest ‘back of the envelope’ initiatives in recent years.
The big question though is why the Chancellor made this announcement. The Chancellor has never made his concerns about childhood obesity known before now, and we have to wonder what made him this 11th hour convert to the pro sugar tax lobby.
If he thought this would give him more credibility with backbench MPs in a future leadership election, he can forget it. More than 80% of Conservative MPs are reportedly against a sugar tax. The sugar tax announcement has not helped his leadership hopes one bit.
So, we can only assume that the announcement was designed to divert attention from other aspects of the Budget, such as the lowered economic forecasts.
The sugar tax debate is not a rational one. It is a debate which obsesses on grabbing headlines in the newspapers, scaring people into giving up sugar completely, and overlooking crucial statistics about falling sugar consumption in the UK.
Important government decisions need to be made in a calm, rational manner. The demand for a sugar tax is anything but calm and rational.
Whenever a health campaigner pops up to say why there ‘must’ be a sugar tax, lurking almost always below the surface is this backward view of evil corporations supposedly ‘exploiting’ consumers, particularly children. That is just ridiculous.
Food and drinks companies are there to make money, but the idea that they are manipulating or forcing people to buy their products is utter lunacy. We’re not forced to buy fizzy drinks. We choose to.
And this call for a sugar tax is just a first step for health campaigners. They genuinely see sugary products as evil. They may lead 100% sugar free lives themselves, but the rest of us don’t. It’s almost as though they want to impose their way of living on the rest of us.
Their extreme views about how bad sugar is will ‘almost’ certainly lead them to push for a sugar tax on sweets, chocolates, and children’s birthday cakes. I say ‘almost’ for good reason.
The reason why they are focusing on fizzy drinks initially is because they see it as an easy target, one which they feel most people may agree with. Extend the sugar tax to all sugary products however, and the reaction from the British public will be less positive.
The health campaigners are simply not brave enough to propose a sugar tax on all products currently, and the politicians aren’t brave enough either. The courage of their conviction simply does not exist.
However they are calling for further restrictions on food and drink advertising on the TV. This is despite the regulations being tightened up in 2006. Now I am not a health professional in any way, but I’m pretty sure eight years of a new regulatory system is not a long enough time period to measure something as vastly complicated as obesity levels.
Instead of jumping up and down, and calling for more advertising restrictions, the health campaigners should be sitting down calmly and analysing the impact of the 2006 regulations first.
But no, some (not all) even want plain packaging introduced for sugary products. That would be ridiculous, extreme, and unacceptable to most ordinary people. It would also be hugely damaging to business.
The health campaigners have every right to highlight the importance of eating healthy, and to promote useful ways of eating healthy. But they have gone way beyond that with their demands for a sugar tax.
It’s beginning to look as though they see themselves as having the right to dictate government health policy.
They may be knowledgeable in their respective areas, and that is great, but these health campaigners are not elected. They are not accountable to the electorate, and therefore have absolutely no mandate for their extreme demands.
If they really want to continue with their high profile campaigns involving celebrities, then they need to consider setting up a political party. At least then, we can gauge just how popular or unpopular some of their demands might be.
Most of us are sensible with what we eat and drink. We do not need health campaigners dictating our shopping basket choices. And we do not need the politicians to jump onto the bandwagon either.
People against Sugar Tax are a new campaign group opposed to a sugar tax in the UK. We are not funded by food or drinks companies.
We believe a sugar tax would do little to reduce obesity levels, and we feel it will be deeply regressive to the poorest 20% of households. We also think that people should be free to choose what they want to eat and drink.