Sunday, 16 October 2016

Should We Tax Sugar?

by Gabriella Watson

In March of this year former chancellor George Osborne took big businesses by surprise after unveiling a tax on sugary drinks. The aim of the £530 million raised by a tax on the sugar in drinks- the equivalent of about 18-24p per litre- is to increase spending on primary school sports in England and Wales. While the announcement of the tax triggered a big fall in the share prices of companies affected by it, key advocates, such as Jamie Oliver, argue that it is a huge step towards improving the overall health of the British population and in particular, children.

With nearly two-thirds of the UK’s population being either obese or overweight, a report predicts that a 20% tax on sugary drinks in the UK would prevent 3.7 million people becoming obese over the next decade. Britons, in general, consume far too much sugar as statistics show that adults eat and drink three times as much of it as health experts recommend. However, given that there is 35g of sugar in a 330ml can of Coca-Cola and the recommended intake per day is a maximum of 30g, it is easy to see why. The government concluded that a tax would lead to people consuming, on average, 15 fewer calories per day. While the difference sounds tiny, a model, created by Cancer Research UK, predicted that there would be a large impact on reducing waistlines. Alison Cox, a representative of the charity, said: "The ripple effect of a small tax on sugary drinks is enormous. These numbers make it clear why we need to act now before obesity becomes an even greater problem.” The charity’s predictions are based on evidence from countries, such as Mexico, which managed to reduce its average sugar intake by 12 per cent after it imposed a significant levy on fizzy drinks in 2014. This was due to a sharp drop in sugary drink purchases as well as an increase in the buying of bottled water.

With this in mind, pressure on the government to impose a sugar tax by organisations, such as Cancer Research UK, was even greater. This was supported by Jamie Oliver after he created an e-petition that saw more than 150,000 people backing the proposed tax. Oliver suggested that the changes were a chance to save the younger generations after he claimed that “we cannot have a long- term plan for the country unless we have a long- term plan for our children’s healthcare”. This was announced after research revealed that 70 per cent of young children do not meet the recommended guidelines of 60 minutes’ physical activity each day and therefore the increase in budget to equip more schools with apparatus for exercise looked particularly encouraging. It would also help, he argued, to put a stop to the expert’s predications that, within a generation, more than half of all boys and 70 per cent of girls could become overweight or obese.

However, the independent economic forecaster, the Office of Budgetary Responsibility, states the costs of the levy will be ‘passed entirely onto the price paid by the consumers’. That means it will be the public, not soft drinks companies, that end up paying the costs of the new tax. The most affected being the poorest families who tend to spend a greater proportion of their income on “sin taxes” such as Coca-Cola or fruit juice. "The evidence shows that the sugar tax has nothing to do with the sugar content of products, so it is farcical to suggest that this will have any positive impact on people's diet or lifestyle choices," a leading opponent of the tax said. Instead, pushing up the cost of everyday products for hard-pressed families would just results in a greater adversity for the poor society in Britain. Again, this has already been shown from the effects in Mexico where average daily soft drink consumption fell by between 5.4 millilitres to 15 millilitres per day in the poorest communities simply because they could not afford. Taxpayers’ Alliance, chief executive Jonathan Isaby, said it was "deeply concerning" that the government was "pushing ahead with this regressive tax which will hit the poorest families hardest".

Although the sugar tax hits hard- pressed families the most through their inability to afford sugary drinks, figures suggest that it is these same families who are the most at risk of being overweight. This is reinforced by studies indicating that Britain’s poorest children are almost three times as likely to be obese as the richest. Therefore, the sugar tax should be implemented to reduce these statistics and decrease the shocking rates of obesity that are prevalent amongst children across Britain today.

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