The Budget – where the Chancellor, George Osborne, lays out the Government’s economic plans – is supposed to be a closely guarded secret. But more often than not, key announcements make their way into the media in the days before.
Today was an exception.
In a Budget focused on ‘putting the next generation first’, there was one surprise from the Chancellor in terms of children’s health. He told the House of Commons that the Government would be introducing a new sugary drink tax, an issue that has received much attention in recent months, and something we reported on in February.
We’ve been calling for the introduction of a tax on sugary drinks, and had expected it to be considered as part of the Government’s upcoming childhood obesity strategy. When this might happen had been up for debate, and we’ve recently been concerned as we heard the strategy had been delayed.
So we were delighted with today’s commitment to a levy on sugary drinks.
What will a sugar tax mean?
Today’s announcement is great news for the health of the nation’s children.
The Chancelor’s announcement of a levy on high sugar drinks is great news for the health of our children. Making sugary drinks more expensive and less appealing to children is a vital step in reducing obesity levels in the UK
– Sir Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK
Research has shown that children tend to exceed the daily recommended maximum intake of sugar, and fizzy drinks are their number one source – something we’ve blogged about before.
The Government estimates that a sugar levy, introduced in two years’ time, will raise £520 million in its first year. While we wait to understand more about how it will work, we hope that the levy will encourage companies to change the way they make their products to reduce the amount of sugar they contain. So, this is undoubtedly an important step to protect children from high-levels of sugar.
Our evidence shows that a tax like this could prevent millions from being obese in the future.
And making small reductions – just 1 per cent each year until 2035 – in the number of people who are overweight or obese could have a big impact for cancer – potentially avoiding around 64,300 cases.
So, we’re delighted that the Government has listened to the evidence and, more importantly, to the public who wanted to see decisive action to prevent the next generation becoming obese.
George Osborne said that the money raised from the levy will be invested into more sport in schools to encourage healthy behaviours in childhood.
In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, there will be an increase in the funding they receive from the government in proportion to the amount raised in the levy. It will then be up to each of the devolved nations to decide how this money is spent.
Some good news on tobacco
We welcome the Chancellor’s announcement of an increase in the tax on tobacco, and greater efforts to tackle illicit trade. The tax increase on tobacco will see the cost of a pack of 20 cigarettes rise by 21p and hand-rolling tobacco will increase by 44p per 30g pack.
This is good news, because higher prices will encourage more people to quit smoking, and also discourage children from starting. 100,000 people die from a tobacco related illness every year, so this tax is vital to reduce smoking rates.
But we remain concerned that the Chancellor’s statement didn’t offer any ways of filling the gaps left by cuts in public health funding that is having a damaging impact on services to help people stop smoking.
Stop Smoking Services are proven to be the most effective means of helping people to quit – an individual is three times more likely to quit using a service compared to going it alone.
These vital services are already under threat, with a number closing or being scaled back due to cuts at local authority level. We hope that the Government’s Tobacco Strategy, which is due in the summer, will set out ways to support these services.
We believe there’s a solution to this. And that’s why we have been campaigning for a tobacco levy – that would see the tobacco industry pay for the damage it causes – as one way to fund the shortfall. We know this approach is supported by the public – over 16,000 people signed our petition in six weeks – and by MPs, with 62 per cent cross party agreement that the tobacco industry should contribute to healthcare costs.
What happens next?
The sugar tax is a great first step. But it’s just one of several key measures that are needed in the long road to tackling children’s obesity.
We look forward to seeing similarly strong measures to reduce the promotion of unhealthy food and improve the availability of healthy choices in the Government’s upcoming childhood obesity strategy, including a ban on junk food marketing on TV before the 9pm watershed.
On tobacco, we will continue to push for the Government to find a way to support vital Stop Smoking Services.
Lucy Absolom is a public affairs officer at Cancer Research UK