Is the ‘Fat Tax’ Right?


At the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, David Cameron talked about his keen interest in adopting the ‘fat tax’ which has been implemented in Denmark since March, taxing foods that contain 2.3% saturated fats such as cheese, milk, oil and processed foods. The taxation is intended to benefit the economy by promoting a healthier lifestyle to increase life expectancy, lowering NHS costs and raising more revenue for the government.

It is argued that the tax will encourage healthy eating to tackle the high obesity levels in Britain, with NHS figures for 2008 showing that 42% of men and 32% of women were obese, which is defined as having a BMI over 30. Further statistics show that the number of items prescribed by the NHS had risen by 1,323,000 at an increased cost of £41,930,000 since 1999. In light of these spiralling costs, it is possible to view the fat tax as positive since it is designed to provide more funding for the NHS while lowering costs through a reduction in the number of cases of obesity.

Despite this, the controversial subject has raised a number of different opinions. Sam Fletcher, co-ordinator of Slimming World Armley, said: “I could not disagree more with the fat tax. We offer Slimming World on Referral, which is far cheaper than the gastric band or any other weight loss treatment at the NHS, saving the government an absolute fortune in the long run. I am sure the government can find a far better area to tax instead of foods as every food is fine in moderation for a balanced diet, whether it is a bar of chocolate or a glass of wine.”

The referral is a free twelve week programme that doctors can prescribe for obese patients, although it is subsidised by the NHS at a cost of £56.87 per person. As Fletcher states, this scheme not only saves money but it also provides the clients with the help and support that they need, both physically and mentally.

It has also been claimed that the tax is unfair as people should be independent in their choice of diet and have the right to buy foods like cheese and milk at a reasonable price as these are essential to maintain a healthy balanced diet.

Chris Magnay, manager of Walkabout Leeds says: “For a business, this tax is uncalled for, it does not help our business at all and it’s making it harder for us local businessmen to make a profit. The food we provide is quick and easy to make and a large proportion of our foods do contain high saturated fats, such as cheesy chips and stilton cheese double burgers. This is where we get our income from and with automatic price increases [due to the tax] customers may be less inclined to come in.”

After looking into the fat tax, the levy initially appears to be a good idea, helping to improve people’s lives and cut costs. However, the taxation is unjust to those that are able to sustain a balanced diet and it is a bizarre concept that people can influence and control the way that individuals eat. Furthermore, the tax will also act as a blockade for businesses that could potentially lose their customers at a time of economic stagnation. The question now is that if we place levies on certain foods, where will the line be drawn both in terms of taxation on other foods and government control more generally?

  • Marc Corner

    Good article that highlights a wider implication than just taxing a non healthy lifestyle!