Chris Rowell: Sugar tax doesn’t have to be taxing…

Jamie Oliver’s wonky views on sugar tax have no place in a free society.

You might respond to me by saying something like “Chris, you’ve clearly had it in for Jamie Oliver since inferior service at Jamie’s Italian ruined your cousin’s birthday lunch.” In that case, I’m afraid you’d be wrong, I opposed Mr Oliver’s Sugar Tax campaign long before the service at Jamie’s Italian in Greenwich ruined a family meal for my cousin’s birthday, last December.

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Unconvinced by my reply you might say “The fact that they lost your reservation, lied when they messed up your order and made substitutions without consulting you must at least have influenced your stance.” I’m afraid not, I make choices as a free individual in a free market, and as such I may choose not to patronise Jamie’s Italian for a while, but at the end of the day that’s up to me. It is exactly this consumer choice that Mr Oliver wants to deny millions of Britons by imposing a regressive sugar tax.

You might then argue “Fine, but surely we need a sugar tax to protect people from themselves, diabetes is on the rise.” You’re right, obesity and related diseases like Type 2 Diabetes are on the rise and something needs to be done, but that doesn’t have to be a tax that hits poorest families the hardest. At the risk of generalising, nobody wants to be obese, nor do they want their children to be. There are things the Government can do to help people make more informed choices about diet and health.

“Yeah Chris, we get the point, but if we can’t tax foods that make people fat what can we do?”. For a start, we need better education. People are intelligent and will more often than not make the best choices for themselves. Let’s give them the information they need to make these choices. More sport in schools and ending business rates and other taxes on Community Amateur Sports Clubs would help too.

“I’m not convinced, we can’t rely on people to make the right choices.” Fine, if I can’t persuade you of humanity’s innate intelligence and rationality let’s talk about fairness. Is it fair to impose the same tax on people who only consume sugary goods in moderation? Regardless of a person’s income a sugar tax will apply at the same rate, so it will have the greatest impact on the poorest families, who need to spend a higher percentage of their income on food and drinks, is that fair?

Although you’re partly convinced by the merits of my argument you might still have your doubts, especially with the sugar tax already planned to take effect in April 2018. You might ask “Why bother fighting it though? Surely a sugar tax is inevitable.” That is just not the case, particularly considering the publication of the Government's childhood obesity strategy today. The rejection of some of the more extreme nanny state proposals is most welcome, however the regressive and ill-advised sugar levy remains.

“Okay, but what can someone like me to do stop this tax?” Jamie Oliver has threatened to become “more ninja” in his opposition, whatever that means. He probably won’t burst into the palace of Westminster armed with nunchucks, but just to be on the safe side you can write to your local MP and ask them to oppose the plans to impose a sugar tax, like Andrea Jenkyns did in a very eloquent speech at the Health Select Committee.

Make sure you also have your say directly with the Government by contributing to their consultation on the 'Soft Drinks Industry Levy'.


Chris Rowell is a Senior Public Relations Consultant based in the North of England. He ran Andrea Jenkyns MP’s successful 2015 General Election Campaign, which unseated sitting Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls. He is a member of the Conservative Way Forward Organising Committee.

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