Government hints it will reject ‘burden’ of sugar and salt taxes

Prime minister ‘not attracted’ to proposal, while communities secretary warns of ‘burden’ on low-income families

Adam Forrest
Thursday 15 July 2021 12:58
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Related video: Food waste charity boss warns UK cannot afford to feed people poor diet following new report

Ministers have suggested that the government will reject proposals to introduce new taxes on sugar and salt to help remedy Britain’s addiction to junk food.

The newly published National Food Strategy review said the government must take action to encourage people to eat less sugar, salt and meat in an effort to save lives and protect the NHS.

However, communities secretary Robert Jenrick said the government would be cautious about imposing any new “burdens” on the public.

Asked about the proposed sugar levy adding an estimated 87p to the price of Frosties, Mr Jenrick told LBC Radio: “I think you have to be very cautious before putting burdens on members of the public – particularly those on lower incomes.”

The cabinet minister added: “I think you do have to be very careful about going down that road, because I don’t want to make life more difficult for people on low incomes.”

Boris Johnson later said he was not “attracted” to the idea of new levies on sugar and salt. “There are doubtless good ideas in it,” the prime minister said on the report.

Speaking in the West Midlands, Mr Johnson added: “I’m not attracted to the idea of extra taxes on hard working people – let me just signal that. But I will study his report with interest.”

The government will “carefully” consider the findings of the National Food Strategy report – commissioned by Michael Gove when he was environment secretary – before bringing forward its own proposals later this year, Mr Jenrick said.

The communities secretary told Sky News: “This is an independent review. It was commissioned by government a couple of years ago but we haven’t had any control over the findings.

“They are interesting findings that the environment secretary [George Eustice] is going to consider and then bring forward our own strategy in the coming months.”

Reports suggest ministers are not keen on implementing any new levies, with many Tory MPs against a “nanny state” crackdown on junk food. One unnamed government official told Politico that a sugar or salt tax was not being considered.

Authored by restaurateur Henry Dimbleby, the independent report warns that what we eat, and how it is produced, is doing “terrible damage” to both the environment and our health – contributing to 65,000 deaths a year in England.

The most significant recommendation would be a “world first” levy of £3 a kilo on sugar and £6 a kilo on salt sold wholesale for use in processed food, restaurants and catering.

This would raise between £2.9bn and 3.4bn a year, the report says, some of which could be spent expanding free school meals to another 1.1 million children who need them.

Mr Dimbleby said plans for salt and sugar levies are “doable”, but admitted he could not guarantee ministers will implement them.

“The government clearly needs to make a change and I think the recommendations I’ve made are doable, powerful and in the short term will create change,” he told BBC’s Breakfast.

“I will be out there making the case for them as strongly as I can but in the end it’s the government’s decision. They are elected, I am not elected, and it’s their decisions on what policies they make, but I will certainly be making the case as strongly as I can.”

Lindsay Boswell, chief executive of food waste charity FareShare, backed the report – saying the proposed changes set out were “the most important ... in my lifetime”.

He told BBC Breakfast: “We cannot afford to keep feeding bad food to people, we cannot afford to have children that go hungry, we cannot afford to destroy the planet in the way we are doing.”

Shadow environment secretary Luke Pollard said the report was a massive wake-up call to fix Britain’s broken food system – warning the government not to ignore it.

“But this government have proved incapable of ending the growing foodbank scandal and the obesity crisis, while their trade deals betray our British farmers,” he said.

“We need a radical obesity strategy, ensuring families are able to access healthy food, supporting local leisure facilities and tackling rising child poverty.”

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