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MPs want to deprive cash-strapped families of ‘unhealthy’ food? Tell them to BOGOF! 


THE real-world effects of the cost of living crisis are already becoming apparent. Prices are beginning to climb on supermarket shelves.  

Our food bills will be hit particularly hard, with Tesco chairman John Allan predicting prices will rise by a further five per cent by the spring. 

Meanwhile the Government, as ever, has its head firmly in the sand, more concerned with virtue-signalling on public health issues than anything else.  

The latest iteration of its attempts to tax and regulate obesity out of existence can be found within the Health and Care Bill, which will again come before Parliament once the current week-long recess is over. 

The Bill contains a number of extraordinary new regulations aimed at slimming down Britain. For instance, it includes long-touted rules around advertising any foods high in fat, sugar or salt (HFSS). A new ‘watershed’ will ban advertising such products on television and radio before 9pm, and they will be prohibited online at all times. 

The purported aim is to protect children from supposedly malicious food advertising. Grimly, as you can probably predict, the policy is far from evidence-based.  

In fact, the Government conducted its own research and found that it will reduce children’s daily intake by a grand total of 1.7 calories. That is roughly the equivalent of a single Tic Tac, or half a Smartie. 

This blanket ban on advertising any food the Government deems to be unhealthy won’t make our kids any slimmer, but its cost to the broadcast industry is estimated at around £200million. 

The Bill also contains a rule banning promotional deals such as Buy One Get One Free (BOGOF) in supermarkets on any foods the State deems unhealthy. Ministers apparently do not realise how many less well-off households rely on such special offers to make ends meet and to be able to pay for their weekly shopping. 

Analysis from the Food and Drink Federation predicts that these measures alone will add £160 per year to families’ shopping bills. That’s on top of already inflated costs thanks to climbing energy bills, National Insurance and tax increases, rising interest rates and other strains on household finances brought about by the cost of living crisis. 

The problem is this. Food prices were going up anyway. Commodity costs have risen in recent years partly because of non-political factors, such as poor wheat harvests.  

Until now, these increases have largely been absorbed by food and drink manufacturers who were keen not to spark panic by raising prices, and were also facing the supply chain crisis caused by lockdown restrictions. 

The combined effect of this on the industry, along with inflation squeezing producers’ margins and an overall downturn in the private sector, has now led inevitably to prices going up in shops.  

The last thing the Government should be doing, therefore, is creating additional artificial financial strain to pile on top of those unavoidable pressures. 

It seems our leaders are so wrapped up in their warped nanny-state mentality, and so obsessed with micro-controlling people’s lives, that they cannot see the problem with their approach.  

They fail to look beyond the perceived need to forcibly use State apparatus to restrict access to unhealthy foods in order to tackle obesity.  

So consumed are they by their virtue-signalling that they have forgotten to consider whether their policies will actually work in helping us slim down. They have also disregarded the effect of their lockdown restrictions on childhood obesity, let alone their unintended consequences. 

If they are not careful, many of the 2019 intake of Tory MPs in the so-called ‘Red Wall’ constituencies will soon find themselves on the receiving end of an almighty backlash. 

The seriousness of the coming economic crisis has not dawned on many of our elected representatives – perhaps they are too distracted by events in Ukraine, or Westminster Bubble gossip about Partygate – as they demand ever more funding from the State for their latest projects. 

Are they oblivious to what their constituents are already going through? Dozens of seats voted Conservative for the first time in a generation in 2019. But the Red Wall they conquered could  easily collapse and bury them if they are not careful. 

If politicians continue to prioritise their ludicrous anti-obesity public health virtue-signalling ahead of the basic financial needs of struggling families, they will suffer dearly when the next election comes around. 

As it stands, the Health and Care Bill is due to come into force on January 1, 2023. The cost of living crisis is one more reason why this ill thought-out legislation should be delayed, as various Tory peers called for when it was put before the House of Lords. 

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Jason Reed
Jason Reed
Jason Reed is a writer and broadcaster on politics and policy.

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