Drinks’ tax is not the answer

Mary Glindon MP for North Tyneside.
Mary Glindon MP for North Tyneside.
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We have a growing problem with obesity. The economic cost of obesity and overweight conditions could balloon from about £7bn in 2015 to about £11bn in 2030.

Ministers understandably want to be seen to be doing something and have plumped for a soft drinks tax.

But my fear is that getting a good headline gives us an ill-thought through policy that actually hurts the less well-off and small businesses, and is no substitute for concerted action that encourages exercise for life.

A French tax reduced sales by just one per cent. Furthermore, the cost is passed on to consumers, and indirect taxes hit the poorest harder. Sugary milk-based drinks are anyway exempt.

The tax will also hit businesses because soft drink sales are the fifth biggest contributor to corner shops and account for £1 in every £20 spent in pubs and restaurants.

The soft drinks industry has voluntarily reduced calorie content by over 13 per cent and aims to get that to one-fifth.

Worse, the chancellor who gave us this tax implemented a huge cut in school sports provision.

And council spending on tackling obesity could be slashed by £140m.

Exercise is the far better option and we need weight management services and exercise referral schemes, as well as extending free or reduced cost sport and leisure facilities, not futile and costly tax gimmicks.