13 Mar 2017 Sugar Tax – the North West’s Contribution
On Wednesday, we were delighted to see the Sugary Drinks Industry Levy (SDIL) included in the Spring budget. The rates were not watered down which is fantastic – remaining at 18p and 24p, as originally thought. The tax will, however, generate less revenue than originally forecast, but this is not a negative. A number of manufacturers have already begun to reformulate their products to reduce the sugar content, proof the tax is working even before it has been implemented with the treasury confirming that 40% less drinks will now to be included. The monies raised from the levy will be used to help schools promote healthier lifestyles with funds going to the Department for Education for School sports, breakfast clubs and to transform facilities to promote healthy behaviours.
Of course this hasn’t been a quick win. This is something which health campaigners have been working on for a number of years, and the North West has played a significant part in this.
Concerned by rising levels of obesity, the North West Healthy Weight Task Force had been launched by North West Directors of Public Health in 2012. When this became Food Active in 2013 we had agreed three priorities for the programme of work with advocating for a tax on sugary drinks at the top of the list. And in 2014, the North West Directors’ Top Ten for Number Ten included the same call.
There have previously been similar taxes across the globe, with much learning from Mexico in particular. The high levels of overweight and obesity across the North West was a real cause for concern (it still is) and reducing consumption of sugary drinks was considered an integral step in the right direction and a tax or a levy seen as important to promote behaviour change.
Research by Liverpool John Moores University was commissioned in 2013 to assess support amongst the general public for a tax on sugary drinks. The results were positive and found that most people were not against the idea of a tax, but had varying views about the level of the tax, and whether it would be effective. An interesting starting point for further research.
Economic modelling carried out by the University of Liverpool into the projected cost benefits to the NHS and social care from a tax of sugary drinks found that a sugary drinks tax would not only reduce adult obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and cancer across the region, but would produce cost savings from a reduction in healthcare costs of treating obesity related diseases of around £3.9 million per annum across the North West.
At Food Active, we continued to advocate for a sugary drinks tax, sharing good practice from around the world and supporting the Children’s Food Campaign (CFC) national advocacy by helping to adapt the modelling tool developed in the North West for the CFC’s website.
In early 2015 we launched Give Up Loving Pop (GULP) a campaign aimed at teenagers and families to highlight the health harms of over-consumption of sugary drinks, and to encourage a switch to water or low-fat milk. The campaign was launched with a series of roadshows in tandem with a huge social media drive. We recognised the grumbling from the British Soft Drinks Association and others in industry as evidence of the potential impact of the campaign on sugary drink sales. GULP has grown from strength to strength, with the development of school-based resources and local authority campaigns, and played a part in the first announcement of the Sugary Drinks Industry Levy just over a year ago.
Successful advocacy relies on effective partnerships and, just as the work carried out in Liverpool and the North West helped in the passing of the Health Act in 2006 which enabled the prohibition of smoking in certain places, so the North West has played a similar role in the Sugary Drinks Industry Levy.
As Action on Smoking and Health and the various Royal Colleges played an essential role nationally in smoke-free legislation, we were delighted in the key contributions of the Children’s Food Campaign, Action on Sugar and the Obesity Health Alliance in their tireless campaigning for a sugar tax to be included in the Childhood Obesity Strategy and the pressure on industry for reformulation. As with smoking, the Royal Colleges and supporting Members of Parliament all had influential roles as well, and let’s not forget the public and even the media.
As ever good national regulation will benefit the health of all our communities including the most disadvantaged. It is a strong argument as to why local healthy weight campaigns should call for national action when and where this is required.