by Jonathan Eida
The question of whether we choose to maintain personal responsibility or whether our lives are ruled by a central authority has taken many forms in recent times. But as today is Junk Food Day, it’s worth talking about one particular battle.
Freedom and personal responsibility go hand in hand. The two can never be split without compromising the other. If freedom is a value that we wish to uphold, then we must protect the principle of personal responsibility. But many politicians and quangocrats are pushing to introduce a whole host of different schemes which violate this.
On the issue of so-called “junk food”, it’s been suggested that the government implement a carrot and stick (pardon the pun) approach to take unhealthy food off the menu.
The stick in this case is the sugar and salt tax proposed in the National Food Strategy. It comprises a £3 per kilo levy on sugar and £6 per kilo on salt in order to quash obesity around the country.
The costs of this tax will undoubtedly reach even deeper into the pockets of the taxpayer, leaving them with a £4.8 billion bill each year. Everyday products such as cereal and jam could rise in price by almost half, while confectioneries including chocolate and sweets will also see price hikes.
The poorest households will undoubtedly be most affected by this, all in an attempt to coerce taxpayers into a government-approved lifestyle or incur financial punishment for non-compliance. This must be recognised for what it really is: an attempt to absorb personal responsibility by the nanny-state and replace it with top-down control over people’s life.
Aside from its authoritarian tendencies, it is also true that the soft drinks industry levy (aka the sugar tax) is ineffective. A study found that the tax had very little effect in stemming the consumption of sugary drinks. The Sugar Tax Shopper survey found that “11% of shoppers claimed they planned to stop drinking sugary soft drinks prior to the tax; this number has fallen to just 1% post-tax.” 62 per cent of shoppers claimed not to have changed their habits in any way post-tax.
The carrot, is another approach floating around the corridors of Westminster which is equally concerning. Unlike the salt and sugar taxes, this plan does not seek coercion, but rather it comes in the form of incentives. According to The Telegraph, the prime minister is attempting to launch a rewards-based system for good habits including eating healthily or going for a run.
This may sound familiar. The Chinese Communist Party has in place a social credit system of a similar ilk. China’s system gives loyal citizens incentives for complying with the CCP. I doubt many Brits are keen to emulate China’s draconian policies. And who knows what the costs of such a scheme will be? The public sector and big IT projects are rarely a good mix.
For those who love freedom, top-down governmental solutions should be abhorred. People must have the ability to freely plot their own course through life. It is not the role of the government to control the eating habits of its citizens, nor to put taxes on food that disproportionately affect the poor.
The junk food debate is a microcosm of the choice standing before us. Are we to choose freedom and personal choice? Or do we wish to see the country plunged into hammering the poorest with yet more taxes or an authoritarian health regime reminiscent of the CCP?
If freedom is to exist in our country then we must fight for it. This includes the fight for personal responsibility with regards to junk food. Ministers must reject calls for more taxes on food, they don’t work and they make everyone poorer.