‘Sugar Tax’ – what is it good for?

Cycling UK wants the sugar tax to fund more cycling and walking to school. Photo: Flickr CC gilly youner
Cycling of course! This Thursday, the Guardian published a collective call from active travel groups and health charities for the Government to use future proceeds from the so-called ‘sugar tax’ to fund cycling and walking to school. Campaigns coordinator Sam Jones explains how this came about

Earlier in August, when the Government published its Childhood Obesity: A Plan for Action, there was a brief mention of what programmes would be funded to tackle the growing (excuse the pun) problem of childhood obesity via the forthcoming sugar tax. This tax is essentially a levy on certain soft drinks such as we already have on alcohol or cigarettes.

The Government said that through the sugar tax it will double funding for the Primary PE and Sport Premium, and contribute a further £10m a year to school healthy breakfast clubs to give more children a healthier start to their day.

By trawling through the figures for the Primary PE and Sport Premium, Cycling UK worked out the Government has committed £169,820,845 of the sugar tax to tackle childhood obesity per year.

It’s not for Cycling UK to argue whether this sum is enough to make a meaningful difference in the battle of the bulge (almost a third of those aged two to 15 are overweight or obese). With the sugar tax expected to raise £520m in its first year (2018/19), however, this does leave the large sum of £350m currently unaccounted for.

Cycling UK’s concern is, like so many other taxes that are labelled as justified under ‘health’ or ‘environmental’ reasons (think Air Passenger Duty), that the moneys raised will just disappear into the general tax pot, and not be used to make a difference in the areas they are actually taxing.

At present, less than 2% of young people cycle the school journey, and only about 41% walk. Sadly, but perhaps not unsurprisingly, both these figures are on the decline.

The forthcoming Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy (CWIS) is meant to halt and then reverse this decline, but this looks unlikely to happen given that ministers seem unwilling to invest any more than £300m of central Government funding into cycling and walking over the five years.

Cycling UK estimates that this will amount to £2.07 per person outside London in 2016/17, declining to just 72p in 2020/21. Meanwhile while roads spending will more than double over that time period, from £1.8bn this year to almost £4bn in 2020/21.

However, as Cycling UK has identified, the sugar tax will generate £350m of new and as yet unallocated funding. It is part of this, not all (no need to be greedy), which we believe should be invested in enabling every child throughout the country to walk or cycle to school.

As the joint letter in the Guardian on Thursday showed, we’re not alone in our belief.

Respected health charities including the Association for Directors of Public Health, the British Liver Trust, the Health Equalities and the Royal Society for Public Health have added their support to the call begun by Cycling UK, and then followed up by active travel groups Sustrans and Living Streets.

Over the coming weeks and months, Cycling UK and our supporters will continue gathering allies both among NGOs and politicians to support spending the proceeds of the sugar tax where it will matter most: the health and prosperity of our next generation.

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