Outside the marginals

a commentary on the politics that followed the UK 2010 & 2015 elections

Nudge Taxes

For a couple of months we (in England, UK) have had a “plastic bag tax” of 5p per bag. It is actually a compulsory levy as the proceeds do not go to the exchequer but to good causes.

What is remarkable is the impact this tax has had and how this compares to the uproar in certain areas about the idea of a sugar tax.

The number of plastic bags taken home by shoppers at Tesco stores in England has dropped by almost 80% since a 5p levy was introduced, data suggests. …

The number of carriers bags given out by seven major supermarkets in England rose by 200 million in 2014 to exceed 7.6 billion – the equivalent of 140 per person and amounting to 61,000 tonnes in total.

Tesco’s market share suggests it is likely to have handed out in excess of two billion single-use bags in 2014.  …

Rebecca Shelley, Tesco’s communications director, said the charge had “clearly had a huge impact” and the company was on target to donate £30m to charity over the year.
BBC News Website, 5 December 2015 : Tesco plastic bag use ‘down 80%’ since 5p charge

So a 5p charge seems to have had the desired “nudge” effect. People have recognised the sense of avoiding single use bags. A few newspapers were even reporting that their readers could avoid the tax by bringing their own bags to the shop (as if that was not the idea!).

But this does not minimise the nudge effect. Nudge – particularly by means of a small tax/charge/levy.

So why the doubts about the proposed sugar tax?

A sugar tax and cutting buy-one-get-one-free deals are part of Public Health England’s “key actions” to tackle people’s addiction to sugar.

Their long-awaited report says the nation is “eating too much sugar” leading to health problems and obesity.

The report also called for less marketing aimed at children in-store, on TV and online.

A spokesman for David Cameron said the prime minister did not want to see the introduction of a sugar tax. …

The prime minister’s spokesman has confirmed that David Cameron has not read the report and that “he doesn’t see a need for a tax on sugar”.
BBC News Website, 22 October 2015 : Sugar tax and offers ban ‘would work’

Why? What do “experts” say:

The doctor’s union, the British Medical Association, called on the government to adopt the recommendations in the report.

But the Food and Drink Federation’s director general, Ian Wright, said: “We do not agree that the international evidence supports the introduction of a sugar tax and for this reason would oppose such a move.” …

Dr Julian Hamilton-Shield, from the University of Bristol, said: “No one can really doubt the harm sugar-containing drinks do to children – they rot their teeth and likely make them obese and at risk of later type 2 diabetes.
BBC 22 October 2015 ibid

Vested interests?

If we will substitute single use bags with bags for life to avoid a small charge (and for environmental benefits), why won’t we substitute sugary drinks with non-sugary drinks?

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