News / Children's Food Campaign

Hundreds of millions of pounds of sugary drinks tax money not being allocated to improve children’s healthy diets, breaking Government promise

Sustain, together with MPs, is calling on the Government to maintain a pledge when the Soft Drinks Industry Levy was introduced, that “Every penny of England’s share of the spending raised by the Levy will go towards improving children’s health”.

Credit: Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock

Credit: Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock
  • The UK Government is breaching a promise made by Government ministers to spend “every penny” of the Soft Drinks Industry Levy on children’s health and wellbeing programmes.
  • The Soft Drinks Industry Levy (SDIL) raised £336 million in 2019/20, but Government refuses to say where and how it is being spent. 
  • £165 million of SDIL revenues are unaccounted for in the current financial year alone, whilst schools and local communities struggle to tackle rising levels of food insecurity and childhood obesity caused by the current pandemic.
  • New report launched today Refreshing Investment in Children’s Healthcalls on Government to stick to the promise and establish a new £100m Healthy Food Innovation Fund, to support schools and local authorities with healthy eating programmes.  

Food Campaigners and MPs are today calling on the Government to maintain a pledge when the Soft Drinks Industry Levy (SDIL, also known as the Sugary Drinks Tax), was introduced, that “Every penny of England’s share of the spending raised by the Levy will go towards improving children’s health”.[ii]  

In the first year of the Levy, the Government announced a series of investments in 2018/19, including £160 million to double the Primary PE and Sports Premium, a one-year Healthy Pupils Capital Fund of £100 million, up to £26 million over two years for a new National School Breakfast Programme, and £22 million for the Enhancing Life Skills programme. However, apart from the continued higher level of support for Primary Sports and PE, and one further grant of £11m for school breakfasts, there have since been no new commitments. 

Sustain's Children’s Food Campaign now estimates that of an estimated £1.4 billion passed to the Department for Education, a total of around £700 million in promised money for children’s health is now unaccounted for since the introduction of the Soft Drinks Industry Levy in 2018.

Barbara Crowther, Co-ordinator of the Children’s Food Campaign says, 

“The Government promised both the soft drinks industry and the public that every penny of the sugary drinks tax would be spent on children’s healthy diets and wellbeing.  At a time that health inequalities, child hunger and childhood obesity are all growing faster than ever as a result of the current pandemic and lockdown measures, it is scandalous that hundreds of millions of pounds of this tax money is simply disappearing without trace.”

Chair of the Education Select Committee, Robert Halfon MP, who recently called for the Soft Drinks Industry Levy income to be used during Parliamentary debates on feeding hungry children during school holidays, says: 

“The sugary drinks tax raises more than £330 million a year. More than half of it is unaccounted for. This money should be redirected to programmes that tackle food insecurity amongst children and boost life chances - initiatives like the National School Breakfast programme run by Magic Breakfast, which we know help pupils make an additional 2 months academic progress over the course of a year.” 

In new report Refreshing Investment in Children’s Health released today (11 January 2020), Sustain & Children’s Food Campaign call on the Government to adopt the following key recommendations:

  • Ensure at least 50% of all revenues from the Soft Drinks Industry Levy are used for healthy food investment initiatives by schools and local authorities, matching the £160m being used for Primary schools sports and PE premiums.
  • Use this money to establish a new Healthy Food Innovation Fund, enabling schools to address rising health inequalities and childhood obesity with projects to boost healthy eating in school. Sustain is calling for this to be a multi-year fund of a minimum of £100m per year, managed via local authorities and academy trusts, like the 2018/19 Healthy Pupils Capital Fund. 
  • Continue to use the Soft Drinks Industry Levy income in support of the National School Breakfast Programme in 2021/22, until national legislation as proposed in the current School Breakfast Bill, establishes a statutory requirement for every state school to provide a healthy breakfast for any child that needs it, and funding to deliver this..

As part of the report Sustain researched how schools and local authorities made use of the additional money from the 2018/19 Healthy Pupils Capital Fund, and also consulted school teachers and public health networks on the needs that a similar future fund might address. The report demonstrates how such funding can support schools with infrastructure and interventions including upgrading kitchen and dining room facilities, training of staff and nutrition education projects, establishing kitchen gardens and food growing schemes.

Catherine Hutchinson, senior public health strategist for Waltham Forest Council says: 

“Schools play a vital role in establishing life-long healthy eating habits. A new fund similar to the Healthy Pupils Capital Fund would make it possible for our local authority and schools to work together to improve children’s diets, tackle food poverty and increase nutrition knowledge and cooking skills.”

Over one in four children enter primary school overweight or obese, and this number rises to one in three when they move on to secondary.[iii] Children from disadvantaged backgrounds are twice as likely to be at risk of obesity or overweight.[iv] The Covid-19 emergency has exposed the levels of deep inequality around food access, as well as risk of overweight and obesity in poorer outcomes. Improving access to healthy food and reducing the obesogenic environment in which children are growing up in is a critical part of any plan to Build Back Better.

Sustain's Sugar Smart and Children's Food Campaigns will be hosting a webinar on Monday 18 January to discuss the use of the Soft Drinks Industry Levy revenue, and a new Healthy Food Innovation Fund.


Download the full report Refreshing Investment in Children’s Health

Watch the webinar


Notes to editors:

About Children’s Food Campaign and Sustain

Children’s Food Campaign is a project of Sustain, the alliance for food and farming. It champions children’s rights, parent power and government action in order to create a healthier food environment for children to grow up in. It is a project of charity Sustain: the alliance for better food and farming, and is supported by over 100 UK-wide and national organisations, including children’s and health charities and professional bodies, trade unions, school food experts and environmental organisations. 


About the Soft Drinks Industry Levy

The Soft Drinks Industry Levy (SDIL) was announced by the former Chancellor of the Exchequer in the March 2016 budget and came into effect in April 2018. It applies to producers and importers of soft drinks with added sugar. At present, companies must pay a levy of 18p per litre for soft drinks containing 5-8g of sugar per 100ml, and 24p per litre for drinks containing more than 8g per litre. It resulted in the major soft drinks companies reformulating over half of soft drinks available on the market. Latest data from Public Health England estimates that the announcement and introduction of the SDIL has resulted in a reduction of 44% in the sugar levels of soft drinks from 2015-2019[v].

For further background on the introduction of the Soft Drinks Industry Levy, read Sustain’s report “How the sugary drinks tax was won”.

Further details from the Government website on the Soft Drinks Industry Levy are available here.

[i] Official Report, Sixth Delegated Legislation Committee, February 2018;c.3

[ii] Official Report, Sixth Delegated Legislation Committee, February 2018;c.3

[iii] National Child Measurement Programme, 2018/19

[iv] National Audit Office, Childhood Obesity Report, September


 [BC1]Report being signed off by his office, please check before use.

Published 12 Jan 2021

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.

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