So, here it is at last: The Sugar Tax! Many health professionals – and not least Jamie Oliver – have been calling for it, and with good reason. We now know that sugar is detrimental to health for a very wide variety of reasons, many of which I have explored on this blog already. But will the sugar tax cut the mustard?
The fact that it is here highlights the fact that there sugar with an issue. 30% of the sugar consumed by children in the UK comes from sugary drinks. Adults consume 16% of their daily sugar in the shape of sweet beverages.
So, clearly, if everyone stopped drinking sugary drinks that would be fab and make a significant dent into sugar consumption in this country. However, the sugar tax would only increase the price per litre by between 18 and 24p. That’s just 6 to 8p by 330 ml tin, and that’s only if drinks companies – who are the ones who will be taxed – are going to pass it on to the consumer. They are expected to, but they might not. But even if they do: Will enthusiasts even notice? Even those who consume 2 litres a day would only be paying a maximum of 50p more than before.
While I see that the government has to start somewhere, personally I feel that the sugar tax is not going far enough. It’s a ‘sweet drinks tax’, not a ‘sugar tax’, as mountains of sugar are being consumed which have nothing to do with liquids at all. What about all the sugar in biscuits, cakes, muffins, doughnuts, chocolates, and sweets, let alone the hidden sugars in ready meals, soups, sauces, yoghurts, peanut butter, bread and other more unexpected places? Shouldn't all added sugars be taxed?
I have seen the argument that the sugar tax is hitting the poor the most, while 'not making them any healthier'. Maybe I am missing something here, but I really can't see how. Yes, I agree that people on low income may have to think twice about buying fizzy drinks if they cost and extra 6 to 8p per tin, but everyone - not just the poor - could just stop buying them. There is after all no physical requirement for sugary drinks. As for the health argument: Just one tin of fizz per day increases the risk of heart disease (20%), diabetes (26%), and gout (75%). So how can anyone say that there is no health benefit from not drinking it? The best drink for us humans is water, which anyone can draw from a tap for next to nothing. There's not even packaging involved.
There is no nutritional requirement for sugar. We know that it causes type 2 diabetes, weight gain, and heart disease. The cost of diabetes to the NHS is £1.5 million an hour. An HOUR! More than 6.8 billion pounds was spent on the treatment of cardiovascular disease in 2012. The taxpayer is footing these huge bills for the treatment of chronic diseases, the vast majority of which are preventable and lifestyle related. So, I think it’s too right that the government – on behalf of us all – is asking for some of that money back via a tax.
The sugar tax is expected to raise £520 million in its first year. The money is supposed to double the budget for primary school sports. That’s a great cause, don’t get me wrong, but I think it would be fairer if it went to the NHS. Of course, looking at the huge expenses quoted above, £520 million are just a drop in the ocean. It would see the NHS through just 346 hours of diabetes care. But at least the money raised from sugar abuse would go to where it hits us all the most: the health care system. Raising a sugar tax on all added sugars and, by the way, artificially sweetened foods and drinks, would generate a bit more money towards the mounting costs of sweetness.
What do you think?