I love you, Jamie Oliver, but your sugar tax idea is classist

Although the sentiment behind the chef's sugar tax proposal is well meaning, it would mostly penalise working-class people.

NS

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

I have never been one to keep quiet about my Jamie Oliver love. Whether it's owning at least nine of his cook books (I see you, Naked Chef) or writing articles defending him, something about his pure, unbridled enthusiasm for culinary delights just gets to me. I attribute it largely to the fact that, in the world of 30 Minute Meals or Jamie and Jimmy's Friday Night Feast, I find a respite from the realities of the world. Jamie’s world is a world where everyone drinks pomegranate and lime water, lens flare abounds, and sadness and poverty don't exist.

Much to my profound sadness, I do not live in the high-res-macro-shot-tricolour-veg utopia of Jamie Oliver. I live in the world where tax credits are about to be cut, hitting both the poorest and mainly the poorest with children (the vast majority of tax credits claimed are child tax credits), and where NHS workers face an assault on their working hours. A world where, a white, privately-educated man told the prime minister of Jamaica, a nation we exploited, to just, you know, get over slavery.

Perhaps the depressing state of the UK shouldn’t have anything to do with Jamie Oliver and his culinary kingdom, but when government legislation is becoming increasingly vicious towards the poor, Jamie’s call for a sugar tax is both pernicious and misplaced. Here’s why: the sugar tax will just be a tax on the poor. It will be a tax that, in effect, makes very little difference to the lives of the middle classes. Although its main aim would be to disincentivise, it would most likely just penalise.

The argument against the sugar tax is not one against regulations or taxation as a whole; it is an argument against a tax that would be unfairly exacerbating the already heavy burden this government is placing on the poor. This tax would be one that either capitalises on the poverty that has forced people into poor diets in the first place, or restricts their already very limited freedom.

If our Lord and Saviour Jamie Oliver wants people to stop eating so much crap, he should campaign for better welfare. If he wants people to eat less sugar, he should fight for more breakfast clubs in schools so students don't go and buy a Galaxy at break because they're hungry. Campaign against the squeeze on the NHS and nurses' pay, so those families with working parents can afford your harissa chicken salads over another ready meal. Maybe the sugar tax would work, but if we’re living in a society where someone has to choose between having a Sprite and feeding their kid, I don’t think obesity is our biggest issue.

Jamie – I get it, you just want to help. I know you care about these things (lest we forget the moment when you burst into tears during a particularly gruelling episode of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution), but your efforts are misplaced. It would be wrong to presume that the malnutrition of Britain is simply a diet problem. This war against obesity is not a fizzy drinks issue: it’s a class issue.