Cllr Ed Davie is the Cabinet Member for Health and Adult Social Care, and a councillor in Thornton ward.
There’s a lot not to like about the prospect of Prime Minister Boris Johnson – Brexit lies, casual racism, homophobia and a terrible record as London Mayor and Foreign Secretary spring to mind.
But this week Johnson’s attack on so-called ‘sin taxes’, levies on products that are bad for our health like sugar, tobacco and alcohol, are another low.
Boris claims that ‘sin taxes’ unfairly effect the poorest when his major policy, apart from plunging the country into a Brexit crisis that will further impoverish the least well off, is a massive tax cut for the very richest. If he truly cared about the poorest he could promise to raise the minimum wage, reduce VAT and increase tax credits rather than spend £9 billion making the wealthiest 10%, like himself, richer still.
The sugar tax, a small amount added to the cost of high sugar drinks, has been a great success in the context of an obesity crisis facing our country – a third of UK children and half of all adults are overweight or obese leading to range of horrible diseases and early deaths which costs our economy tens of billions of pounds.
Oxford and Cambridge University modelling published in the Lancet suggests that the sugar tax is helping reduce obesity cases in the UK by around 150,000 per year, as well as reducing cases of tooth decay by 250,000.
In addition the money raised through the sugar levy is distributed to councils to spend on measures to tackle childhood obesity. In Lambeth we spent the £350,000 raised to buy our schools portable ovens and catering equipment which have been used to teach over 3,000 children how to cook healthy vegetable-based meals.
Next year it is projected that we will get much less money because drinks companies have responded to the tax by reducing the amount of sugar in their products taking them below the taxable line. Although it would be great to have more investment to off-set central government cuts to our public health budget it does prove that the tax is effective in getting companies to change their ingredients to healthier ones.
And it is not just sugar that ‘sin taxes’ are effective in encouraging companies and consumers to make healthy changes.
Early analysis also suggests that minimum unit pricing in Scotland has cut alcohol consumption by 25% in a country that has one of the worst drink-related disease and crime records in the world – a lesson England should learn from and adopt as soon as possible
The rising cost of cigarettes through taxation is one of the main reasons smoking has declined to historically low levels and even the plastic bag tax, reducing their use by over 90%, proves that targeted tax is a highly effective lever for changing behaviour in positive ways.
Boris says he would like more focus on exercise but as an overweight jogger Johnson embodies the notion that you ‘cannot outrun a poor diet’.
We need more levers to encourage people to make healthier choices and lifting poorer people out of poverty so that they can more freely make those choices is the best place to start whoever wins the Tory leadership race.
Cllr Ed Davie
Cabinet Member for Health and Adult Social Care