Sugar tax: Sweet – or a bitter pill?

Stewart Jackson MP's Westminster Life column in the Peterborough Telegraph - peterboroughtoday.co.uk
Stewart Jackson MP's Westminster Life column in the Peterborough Telegraph - peterboroughtoday.co.uk
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I actually don’t instinctively recoil from such a plan and genuinely have an open mind on the issue. As I have said many times before, I am a social Conservative before being a laissez faire “free for all” liberal and I believe that it’s perfectly respectable and sometimes right to levy taxes to bring about a social good or curb bad behaviour. That’s why I backed a smoking ban in cars with children.

In Peterborough, a report published last year found that 24% of our school children were overweight or obese at age 5 and a staggering one in three of ten and eleven year olds were overweight or obese. Given that we have never had so much health and nutritional information available to the average person and consumer, that is surely a shocking indictment of these kids’ parents?

There is no doubt too that obesity has the potential to disable the workings of the National Health Service in the next ten years or so, as the impact of over indulgence of sugar works its way through the system in the form of heart disease, stroke and in particular, diabetes.

So would a sugar tax have any impact and would it be worth the effort? Would it save the NHS billions in the long run and would sugar become as socially unacceptable as, say, tobacco is now?

A sugar tax and cutting buy-one-get-one-free deals are part of a recent report by Public Health England’s with “key actions” to tackle people’s addiction to sugar. Their long-awaited report says the nation is “eating too much sugar” leading to health problems and obesity. The report also called for less marketing aimed at children in-store, on TV and online.

The report reducing sugar intake could save the NHS £500m a year.

It suggests a sugar tax between 10% and 20%, significantly reducing advertising high sugar food and drink to children and targeting supermarkets and take-away special offers and it also criticised price promotions that distort people’s shopping baskets – strikingly, 40% of money spent on food and drink was on products on offer.

Public Health England called for a “rebalancing” of promotions with a shift away from cakes and biscuits towards healthier foods. And it concluded 6% of total sugar consumption could be prevented if promotions on higher sugar products were banned.

The food industry is predictably up in arms and for the time being, a sugar tax seems unlikely - but the issue isn’t going away.

What do you think?