Today marks the introduction of the sugar-tax on drinks.
The declared aim of this tax – combating obesity and especially obesity in children – is one we should all support. There is no doubt at all that obesity has become a very serious problem in Ireland and that its epidemic development among young people is particularly threatening.
There is also no doubt that the high sugar-content in many children’s drinks is a major contributor to this epidemic. But there is a much simpler and more effective way of dealing with this problem – just ban or strictly limit the amount of sugar in soft drinks.
This would tackle the problem at its source – unscrupulous companies willing to endanger the health of young people for profit. The idea that this couldn’t be done is clearly false; just imagine the response to lacing children’s drinks with alcohol but sugar is also highly addictive.
Moreover, restricting sugar in drinks could go hand in hand with ensuring that vending machines in schools, colleges and youth centres are not stacked full of unhealthy crisps and chocolate bars. Again we wouldn’t tolerate cigarette machines in schools.
But actually there are reasons why this Fine Gael government prefers the taxation approach. It fits with its own neo-liberal ideology which responds to every problem by searching for a ‘market solution’ rather than by tackling the question of production and supply.
- To the housing and homelessness crisis: don’t build public housing , give developers incentives
- To the crisis in the water infrastructure: don’t fix the leaks, introduce a water tax
- To cervical smear testing: outsource it to a ‘competitive’ private company in the US
- To climate change: don’t stop fossil fuel production, bring in a carbon tax.
What is more they know, but never admit, that every purchase tax, every indirect tax, hits the working class and the poor harder than the well off or the rich. The government exploits this to the full. They claim the moral high ground by taxing cigarettes and sugar and alcohol and so on, all in the name of health and welfare, while simultaneously shifting the tax burden more and more on to the shoulders of those who are most hard pressed.