Christopher Snowdon

Liz Truss should scrap the sugar tax

Liz Truss (Credit: Getty images)

In public health circles, it is considered terribly gauche to expect policies to work. You might think, for example, that a trailblazing intervention designed to reduce obesity would be considered a failure if obesity rates rise to record highs after it has been implemented. Not so with the sugar tax. Obesity among both children and adults has gone up since it was introduced in 2018, but the health lobby does not consider it to be a failure. Contrary to the evidence of your eyes, they say, it has actually been a success. The only failure is the failure of the government to do lots of other things in addition.

This is one of a number of ways in which ‘public health’ differs from medicine. If a patient’s health gets worse after being given some pills, doctors do not claim that the treatment has been a success and double the dose.

If Sainsbury’s wants to put nothing but toilet paper and whisky at the end of their aisles, they should be free, not compelled, to do so

The sugar tax has only been in place for four years and yet the Guardian tells us that civil servants are ‘aghast’ at the possibility that Liz Truss might get rid of it. Everyone from the Institute for Government to the Soil Association is up in arms at the thought of the nanny state juggernaut coming to a halt or even u-turn under Truss’s watch.

And yet the sugar tax hasn’t worked in the UK – neither has it worked in any other country. There is a good deal of economic research showing this and explaining why (in short, people pay up or switch to other sugary products). It is not, and never has been, an evidence-based policy.

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