The UK could introduce a new £3bn tax on sugar and salt as part of a string of reforms aimed at improving the health of the nation and helping to tackle climate change.
A government review by Leon co-founder Henry Dimbleby published today said Covid had provided a “painful reality check” and warned that poor diets contributed to around 64,000 deaths in England every year at an estimated cost to the economy of £74bn.
The National Food Strategy also highlighted the environmental damage caused by food production and said Britain had a “once-in-a-generation” opportunity to rethink its diet.
The review called on ministers to introduce a £3/kg tax on sugar and £6/kg tax on salt sold wholesale for use in processed foods, or in restaurants and catering businesses.
This would create an incentive for manufacturers to reduce the level of sugar and salt in their food by reformulating recipes or reducing portion sizes, it said.
The report said the Sugar and Salt Reformulation Tax could raise between £2.9bn and £3.4bn per year for the Treasury.
The money raised from the levy should be used to help fund Free School Meals, it added. The review called on the government to increase the household earnings threshold from £7,400 to £20,000 before benefits, saying this would make an additional 1.1m children eligible for the scheme.
Other recommendations in Dimbleby’s include a statutory duty for all food companies with more than 250 employees to publish an annual report on their sales of various food types, as well as enabling fruit and vegetables to be prescribed on the NHS.
“With the right leadership from government, it is well within our power to change the system so it makes both us and the planet healthier,” said Dimbleby.
“Currently, however, the way we produce food is doing terrible damage to the environment and to our bodies, and putting an intolerable strain on the NHS.
“Covid 19 has been a painful reality check. Our high obesity rate has been a major factor in the UK’s tragically high death rate. We must now seize the moment to build a better food system for our children and grandchildren.”
Charity the Food Foundation hailed the proposals as a “bold and exciting vision” and urged the government to give the report “the attention and action it deserves”.
But the Taxpayers’ Alliance warned the “deeply regressive” tax could cost consumers as much as £4.8bn each year.
Christopher Snowdon, head of lifestyle economics at free market think tank the Institute of Economic Affairs said: “Once again, rich people want to clobber ordinary people with stealth taxes, this time on sugar and salt.
“At a time of rising inflation, after the deepest recession in 300 years, Mr Dimbleby really needs to read the room. He rightly says that a meat tax would be unpopular and regressive. If Boris Johnson is foolish enough to act on these recommendations, he will soon find the same is true of taxing basic nutrients.”