Last time round it was the national living wage that caught industry chiefs off-guard. This time the Chancellor’s “surprise” was a tax on sugary drinks.
Details are sparse at the moment, but what we do know is that soft drinks companies will pay a levy on drinks with added sugar from April 2018. We know that the levy will apply to drinks with total sugar content above five grams per 100 millilitres, with a higher rate for more than eight grams per 100 millilitres and that milk-based drinks and fruit juices will be exempt. The charge is expected to raise £520m in the first year, with the lion’s share going to support healthy living initiatives in schools.
The “absurd” u-turn (the Department of Health said last year there were “no plans” for the tax) will likely have caused executives at the big beverage manufacturers to choke on their post-lunch Pepsi (shares at the likes of Irn Bru and Britvic have already been hit). Campaigners, meanwhile, will have raised their (water-charged) glasses to George Osborne last night.
Here is some of the reaction so far.
The Food and Drink Federation, unsurprisingly, are not big fans of the move. Manufacturers have been waiting for months on the government’s (still unpublished) childhood obesity strategy, which prompted director general Ian Wright to call the policy a “piece of political theatre”. There are certain to be job losses, he said.
His counterpart at the British Soft Drinks Association pointed to “consistent” reductions in sugar intake. “We are the only category with an ambitious plan for the years ahead – in 2015 we agreed a calorie reduction goal of 20% by 2020, said Gavin Partington. “By contrast sugar and calorie intake from all other major take home food categories is increasing – which makes the targeting of soft drinks simply absurd.”
Professor Graham MacGregor, chair of campaign group Action on Sugar, was “delighted” but not satisfied. The levy must be at least 20% on all sugar-sweetened soft drinks and confectionary, he said.
Naveed Sattar, professor of Metabolic Medicine at the University of Glasgow, said it was a “very small step”. “This tax on its own […] will not solve the obesity crises and we need more legislation to force food companies to make better quality food products and less unhealthy products which contain less fat, salt and sugar.”