COMMENT: My rudimentary grasp of party politics had led me to believe that the Conservative party would rather not increase tax for business and enterprise, so it must have been a particularly tricky moment for Chancellor George Osborne, in this week’s budget, to finally confirm the sugar tax will be happening. Perhaps that’s why it had been put off for so long since it was first mooted.
According to the Daily Telegraph, the UK is one of the first countries in the world to tax sugary drinks (South Africa is introducing it next year). The levy will raise £11billion by 2020, which has irked the likes of Coca-Cola.
Could the Chancellor have gone about tackling childhood obesity in a way that would have avoided penalising businesses? Could he have invested in ways to get the nation’s children more physically active, rather than making their sugary drinks more expensive?
The proceeds of the sugar tax have been earmarked for boosting sports in primary schools. So at least the cash is going towards boosting cycling, right? Let’s face it, a few more footballs and basketball hoops are an ‘easier win’ than schools purchasing bicycles. But cycling aside, at least there will be more sports in schools, if all goes to plan.
However, many would argue that boosting sport in school is all well and good, but introducing everyday activity and building exercise into the lives of children is a far more effective weapon against obesity, surely?
The obesity problem goes far beyond party politics and the current crop of politicians, whatever their persuasion. There are many challenges facing the government in 2016 but it doesn’t take Mystic Meg to realise that the great obesity challenge is one that will be sticking around long after Cameron, Osborne, Corbyn, et al, have retired. Obesity is going to stick to the UK like those last few last pesky pounds you can’t shift.
Public Health England puts the indirect costs of obesity at around £27billion in 2015. Will the sugar tax sort that out, or even chip away at that colossal figure? Would investment in infrastructure to make cycling and walking appear more attractive to the nation have done more?
Osborne’s words on introducing the sugar tax were interesting: "I am not prepared to look back at my time here in this Parliament, doing this job and say to my children’s generation: ‘I’m sorry – we knew there was a problem with sugary drinks. We knew it caused disease. But we ducked the difficult decisions and we did nothing’."
The Chancellor has hit upon a fine point. To turn that quote around and direct it not just at Osborne but all the successive governments who have failed to tackle inactivity: "We knew it caused disease. But we ducked the difficult decisions and we did nothing’."
Of course, they do know inactivity causes disease but UK governments have declined to spend the recommended £10 a head on cycling, that tailor-made solution to our obesity crisis. In the meantime, Coca Cola is going to get more expensive and primary school kids may get some more fancy sports equipment. That’ll do it.
*To be absolutely crystal clear, I’m not bashing the Conservatives alone – the Lib Dems in the last government and Labour before them have all, ultimately, come up short.