Friday 24 June 2016

I'm not a fan of a sugar tax

Someone we know recently posted on Facebook in support of a tax on sugary soft drinks.  On the face of it, it seems like a no-brainer: they're fuelling our 'obesity epidemic' and are generally bad for you.  But he also mentioned that obesity is largely a problem of people who don't earn much money.  That got me thinking: why is that?  I suspect it's because soft drinks are an accessible pleasure for people who don't have much money.

So, instead of (or alongside) the 'stick' of a sugar tax, I propose a 'carrot'.  Introduce other pleasurable options for people with very little disposable income.

This has been done before. Most of the British chocolate companies were started by Quakers dealing with a very similar situation to our obesity epidemic. They were faced with a drunkenness and domestic violence epidemic, fuelled by working class men indulging in one of the few pleasures accessible to them: beer. Their response was to start chocolate companies as a form of social enterprise.  They wanted to provide a harmless pleasure for the working man to replace the harmful one he was indulging in.

Of course, to our eyes their solution doesn't look ideal: chocolate isn't quite as harmless as they thought. But I still think we (the churches, civil society) should follow their example.

Perhaps we should lobby the government for very cheap movies for community services card holders - a bit like the free travel offered to Super Gold Card holders.  And by cheap, I mean under $5 - ideally maybe around $2 for adults and $1 for kids, with the balance picked up by the taxpayer.

Maybe Christian business people could start businesses selling healthy things that are as cheap and yummy as soft drinks.  I'm not sure what those would be, but if enough people put their minds to it I'm sure we could come up with something.

Maybe churches could have board game libraries so families could have fun together playing those.

Maybe we could lobby for popular sports to be available free to air on TV so that everyone could enjoy those.

I'd much prefer those solutions to simply taking away one of the few easily-accessible nice things that a lot of people have. Even if doing so might improve their physical health, without an accompanying 'carrot' it's unlikely to improve their mental wellbeing.

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