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The way to improve the nation’s health is through education not taxes

The way to improve the nation’s health is through education not taxes
4 min read

We won’t beat obesity by limiting personal freedom. Instead, government should equip people to make better lifestyle choices, writes Ben Bradley MP

They say the only certainties in life are death and taxes. That doesn’t mean we should relish those prospects.

The nation’s health matters, and the government should aim to create a happier and healthier society. However, the idea that the answer to this is through regressive taxes on personal freedom is plain wrong. These taxes, such as the sugar tax or the meat tax, take away choice without bringing about any tangible benefits.

The sugar tax hasn’t worked. It has had little to no effect on people’s lifestyle choices. At the same time, it has only managed to bring in half the revenue that was planned. The only thing the sugar tax has effectively done is bring about financial complications for the poorest in society. Healthier alternatives to sugary drinks tend to be more expensive which means whatever the consumer buys, they are spending more money.

It also tends to be households on lower incomes that consume the most sugary drinks. Under the sugar tax, consumers are not buying less of the now more expensive products, just spending more of their monthly income on them. How can this still be considered a good idea when it doesn’t bring in as much money as planned, doesn’t effectively stop people from consuming sugary products and negatively affects those on the lowest incomes?

Recently, we had the proposal of the meat tax. The whole idea brought me out in pre-emptive meat sweats, forcing me to go to my local supermarket and buy a steak. Despite being the brainchild of researchers from the University of Oxford, it is a resoundingly bad idea. Not only because people like burgers, but because of the impact on people’s wallets, and of course on the farming community too.

The price of cheaper processed meat would rise by 79% whereas more expensive products such as sirloin steak, which is too expensive for many anyway, would only rise by 14%. When increasing taxes, the poorest in society tend to be most negatively affected. If those same people had more disposable income through less taxation, they may be able to afford more leisure activities and be healthier as a result. The answer should instead be to tax less, and help people to afford more freedom.

These are just two examples of a worrying trend that is aimed at limiting personal freedoms by state legislation. These policies only reduce the food and drink choices for the poorest in society and take up an ever-increasing proportion of their income.

I propose that the way to improve the nation’s health is through education. Yes, we all remember learning about the different food groups at primary school, and we know too much unhealthy food makes you fat.

It’s about more than that, though. It’s about helping people to cope with modern life. The reason I eat and drink too much is not about misunderstanding calories, it’s an unhealthy response to the stresses of 21st-century life. If we equip people more effectively, they will be healthier.

If we focused larger amounts of time on this education, we wouldn’t have the current obesity problem.

We know that 28% of children aged two to 15 are overweight, and on average 40% of adults. There is a parental responsibility to make healthier choices for our kids, and a governmental one too – not to remove free choice, but to ensure that every citizen has the skills to independently make those choices; perhaps even to free up some of their income so they can choose more healthy activities.

We must try to create a society where people make healthy lifestyle choices not because they have to, but because they want to.

Ben Bradley is Conservative MP for Mansfield


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