TaxPayers' Alliance slams government for its "bungled" sugar tax

Francesca Washtell
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Coca Cola was one of the drinks singled out by the TPA's study (Source: Getty)

The TaxPayers' Alliance (TPA) has slammed the government's "bungled" sugar tax, which it has claimed will "hit the poorest families hardest" and have little impact on sugar intake.

The soft drinks levy, which was a surprise announcement in the March Budget, will be paid by producers and importers of "water-based added sugar soft drinks" from April 2018.

However, the TPA has called for the government to ban the "pernicious" tax after the group carried out a study of 49 drinks and found that some milk-based and coffee drinks contained more sugar than those in the soft drinks category, but would not be subject to the new tax.

While Coca-Cola had 10.6 grams of sugar per 100 millilitres, the TPA found a Starbucks' Signature Hot Chocolate with whipped cream and coconut milk, which had 11 grams of sugar per 100 millilitres, will not.

None of the ten most sugary drinks products analysed in the study will be subject to the levy.

"It is deeply concerning that the government has given in to the pressures from the public health lobby and is pushing ahead with this regressive tax which will hit the poorest families hardest," Jonathan Isaby, chief executive of the TPA, said.

Read more: A spoonful of sugar tax can help fizzy drinks go down

"The evidence shows that the sugar tax has nothing to do with the sugar content of products, so it is farcical to suggest that this will have any positive impact on people's diet or lifestyle choices.

"This is yet another example of irresponsible meddling from the High Priests of the Nanny State, introducing entirely unnecessary complications into an already complicated tax system and pushing up the cost of everyday products for hard-pressed families," Isaby added.

Read more: Will sugar tax leave marketeers with a crashing low?

A "major step forward"

However, in response to the TPA's claims, a Treasury spokesperson said:

The soft drinks industry levy is a major step forward in our efforts to tackle childhood obesity; treating obesity and its consequences costs the taxpayer £5.1bn every year. The levy will be charged on soft drinks because they are the main source of added sugar in children's and teenagers' diets, many with no intrinsic nutritional value.

Health experts agree there is a specific problem with sugar-laden fizzy drinks that must be addressed.

The money from the levy will go towards funding more school sport, and expanding school breakfast clubs. The levy is designed so that producers don't have to pass the tax on to consumers and if they change their product mix to reduce sugar content, then they will pay less or no tax.

The Treasury has described the tax as designed to "encourage producer-led reformulation". Producers, it claims, do not have to pass the tax on to consumers but can instead change their product mixes and, by reducing added sugar content, save their customers from the levy.

Read more: Sugar tax would be laughable if it weren't so pathetic

There have been a number of moves against high sugar contents in food since the tax was announced in March.

A public consultation was launched in mid-May on introducing new non-broadcast rules on how food and soft drink products are advertised to children.

The body responsible for writing the UK Advertising Code, the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP), has launched the consultation in response to "wider societal concerns around childhood obesity".

The estimated cost to the UK economy today from obesity is approximately £27bn, with the NHS currently spending over £5bn on obesity-related costs. In England, around one in 10 children are obese when they start primary school, and this rises to two in 10 by the time they leave.

In April Mars Food, the parent company of Dolmio and Uncle Ben's, warned customers its products should only be eaten "occasionally" due to their high sugar, fat and salt content.

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