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Advertorial feature by British Soft Drink Association
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13 October 2016updated 05 Oct 2023 8:26am

We need local solutions to public health problems – not an ineffective soft drinks tax

A soft drinks tax will hit small businesses, and won’t tackle obesity. 

By Mary Glindon

The Prime Minister recently declared at the Conservative conference that she wants a country that works for everyone. She claimed she would run a government that does not just listen to the voices of the powerful elite in the City of London, but to the whole of the country.

And yet, she has insisted on going ahead with George Osborne’s regressive, ineffective soft drinks tax. A tax that will risk over 4,000 jobs and won’t even scrape the surface of the obesity crisis in the UK.

The sugar tax announced in George Osborne’s last budget will hit the very people the new Prime Minister claims she wants to support, whilst making no headway into tackling the obesity epidemic.

The tax will hit small businesses, and won’t tackle obesity.

Hitting small businesses

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The evidence from both the UK and across the world shows that a tax on soft drinks will not reduce obesity. Its impact, however, will cost the UK economy £1 billion.  

And it’s not just ‘big industry’ that will feel the impact of this. Our local independent businesses, which drive and feed our regional economies, will be hit too.

In the North East, where my constituency is based, the soft drinks tax will mean the loss of £4 million from our local economy, which is already struggling with Tory cuts. Over 300 jobs will also be lost as a result of the tax.

Independent businesses in my constituency work incredibly hard to achieve their growth and success. They cannot continue to do so without the right understand and support from their Government. 

In light of recent political events it is clear that we, as politicians, need to work harder to show that we are listening to our communities, and working hard to deliver solutions that work at a local level.

The soft drinks tax, much like the pasty tax, is another example of Westminster politicians seeking a headline but not delivering real change to people’s lives.

Failing to tackle obesity

Obesity presents an immense challenge to the health service, which is why we simply must not pretend that we can solve it with a tax.

More than ever we must make decisions based on evidence. We must ensure we are directing resource and support to those in our communities who can actually deliver the public health outcomes we all want to see.

The Conservative government talk of a commitment to devolution and local government but continually thwart efforts by reducing funding.

Three years ago public health spending was transferred from the NHS to local government. The result? Newly published figures for how much councils expect to spend tackling obesity next year are forecast to be down on the £140 million estimated this year already, according to data released by the Local Government Association this year.

Instead of taxing consumers, surely the first steps to address obesity are to ensure adequate finding is given instead to such important services. Commissioning weight management services, exercise referral schemes and extending the offer of free or reduced-cost sport and leisure facilities are all far more effective way forward.

Obesity is a complicated multifaceted problem. If current trends are not reversed, the overall cost to the economy of obesity and overweight conditions could increase from between £6 billion and £8 billion in 2015 – and between £10 billion and £12 billion in 2030. The idea that we can place a tax on one product and have a meaningful impact is foolish.

We need a local agenda to this national problem. It is for these reasons that I am urging the Government to review this policy.