Today’s the day in the UK that the much-anticipated sugar tax comes into force. The, often irritating, Jamie Oliver has courted this for so long and garnered much media attention. But, is it everything it purports to be? I have written about this before on the blog but now it’s in force I thought I would have another look at it.
What is the sugar tax
The sugar tax is a new levy the UK government is imposing on drinks manufacturers. Amounts payable by them depends on the sugar content per 100ml of any given drink. Here’s the summary of how it works:
- 18 pence per litre tax on drinks containing more than 5g of sugar per 100ml
- 24 pence per litre tax on drinks containing more than 8g of sugar per 100ml
Whether or not the drinks manufacturers will pass on these costs to us, the consumer, is yet to be seen.
Are there any catches?
The first thing to note is that in anticipation of this tax coming into force many manufacturers have altered their recipes. UK Treasury estimates suggest that 50% of manufacturers have reduced the sugar content in their drinks. Irn-Bru, Lucozade, Ribena and Fanta have all make significant cuts to the sugar in their drinks. However, it must be noted that this sugar has been replaced with artificial sweeteners (i.e. chemicals). Notably, Coka-Cola and Pepsi have not reduced the sugar in their drinks – but then surely that’s because they both offer sugar-free variants anyway?
Exempt from the sugar are pure fruit juices as they do not carry any added sugar. Also excluded are drinks with high milk content due to the calcium content.
The UK Treasury originally estimated that the tax would raise £500m a year. However, they have now revised this estimate in light of manufacturers reducing their sugar contents. They are now estimating £240m a year instead – more than half the original.
Whilst the cutting of sugar in these drinks is great, the fact chemicals are being added to replace it is not so great in my eyes. And now the government have far less money that they were planning to use to increase sports and breakfast clubs in schools. Not great really.
Eliminating personal choice
One of my biggest issues were the tax passed on the consumers, is the fact it takes away personal choice. My personal choice is I prefer Pepsi to Coke. And I prefer Pepsi Max over standard Pepsi. I choose that, if I bother to have a fizzy drink because it has no sugar and I do so in the knowledge that the sweetness comes from artificial sources. That is my personal choice.
If my choice was to consume a drink with high sugar content then that is my wish. And as a parent, I choose what my children consume. I actively choose they don’t have sugary drinks very often at all. Again, personal choice.
How far does a government have to go when it comes to controlling our lives?
Will it change anything
Probably. In fact, hasn’t it already with the fact that many manufacturers have reduced the sugar in their drinks? But will the tax stop people buying the drinks at all? Unless manufacturers pass on the tax to the consumer we will not see a difference. If we don’t see a price increase where is the incentive to choose another option for the consumer?
I have nothing against initiatives to help people choose healthy choices. But these initiatives need to be better thought out. This tax really is a result of celebrity campaigning rather than long thought out government policy-making.
I shall still buy a full sugar Pepsi if I WANT one. That’s the point. The stick approach of a tax is not enough to stop me. Of course, I always choose Pepsi Max anyway so I’m hardly a good test case. But the point is they’ve opted for the stick approach rather than the carrot. There’s something in the idea of somehow incentivising physical activity by somehow offering people something in return. I’m not clear how that can be done, how you would stop people cheating the system, or how it would work. But, I think this is the way it will g in the future.
Thanks for reading.