Using taxes for public health
Creating healthier food environments for children also means looking at measures that encourage companies to reduce the levels of sugar, saturated fat and salt in the food and drink they produce. Industry levies can act as a powerful trigger for this type of reformulation. When research showed that soft drinks were the single biggest contributor of sugar to children’s intake, and therefore to problems of overweight and tooth decay , we joined with the Jamie Oliver Group and the Obesity Health Alliance to call for a Sugary Drinks Duty. Together, through our Children’s Health Fund, we also modelled how revenues from an industry duty could be invested into children’s health.
In March 2016, the UK Government announced its intention to introduce a Soft Drinks Industry Levy, for all drinks containing 5g sugar or more per 100 ml, and it came into force in April 2018. In the interim, many companies quickly reduced levels of sugar in order to avoid the new tax. So far, the Soft Drinks Industry Levy has:
- Reduced the amount of sugar in soft drinks by around 44 million kgs per year, according to Government sugar reduction reports.
- Led to average household reduction in sugar consumption of almost 30g per week
- Raised around £300 million in tax revenues that may be spent on initiatives to improve children’s health, such as the National School Breakfast Programme, a £100 million healthy pupils capital fund (1 year only) and increased PE and Sports Premiums for schools.
Meanwhile, voluntary industry action to reduce sugar consumption via other foods has been patchy at best, and in some categories such as confectionery, sugar levels are still rising.
What we are calling for:
- The Soft Drinks Industry Levy threshold to be lowered to 4.5g per 100ml in line with the Nutrient Profile Model
- An increase to the charging rate under the levy, at least in line with inflation, as it has not changed since 2018.
- More business incentives for further sugar reduction and healthy food and drink reformulation
- Further fiscal measures – such as industry duties or levies – to be applied to other categories of high fat, sugar and/or salt (HFSS) food and drink, such as confectionery and snacks, in order to get companies to either make their products healthier, or contribute higher taxes towards the costs of public health.
What we are doing
- We are now working in collaboration with the Food Foundation, Obesity Health Alliance and British Heart Foundation on further research on potential impacts of further healthy food and drink levies, as well as building public and political support for further change. This work is in done in partnership and with support of Impact on Urban Health.
- Building on National Food Strategy recommendations for sugar and salt reformulation taxes, we will continue to push for further use of industry levies to drive and reward healthy reformulation, as well as continuing to champion the Soft Drinks Industry Levy as a model of change.
Useful Resources and Information
Policy Briefing: The NFS Sugar and Salt Reformulation Tax
Report: Refreshing Investment in Children's Health, exploring revenues from Soft Drinks Industry Levy
Webinar: Refreshing Investment in Children's Health - including Robert Halfon MP, Emma Lewell-Buck MP, Magic Breakfast, Sugar Smart UK, Croydon Council
August 2021, PHE voluntary reformulation targets are not enough
Children's Food Campaign: Better food and food teaching for children in schools, and protection of children from junk food marketing are the aims of Sustain's high-profile Children's Food Campaign. We also want clear food labelling that can be understood by everyone, including children.