In real terms, wages are down. The Office for National Statistics says that despite a boost from December bonuses, real pay decreased by 0.1 per cent year-on-year, because of skyrocketing inflation. Thanks to huge increases in household energy costs and the broader cost-of-living crisis, inflation is now outpacing wage growth and we are all worse off as a result.
A key area where many families will feel the pinch is food prices. Costs have been going up for some time in the background, but so far most have been absorbed by manufacturers and distributors, with the industry able to keep prices low. Now, though, thanks to a perfect storm of inflation, energy prices and various other factors, food prices are set to soar. Tesco chairman John Allan estimates they will go up by 5 per cent by the spring.
Why, then, is the government clinging onto tired, ineffective nanny-state policies in a misguided effort to tackle obesity? It’s anyone’s guess. The Health and Care Bill, for which health secretary Sajid Javid has reiterated his unwavering support, is set to bring in a whole host of new nanny-state policies as part of the government’s wrongheaded attempt to tax and ban obesity out of existence.
For instance, the ‘junk food ad ban’, which the government has been promising for years, finally makes its appearance in legislation. Harsh new rules will outlaw the advertising of foods the government has decided are unhealthy before 9pm on TV and radio, and at any time online. The government is pushing ahead with this policy despite its own research into the idea finding that the grand total of its impact on children’s daily calorie consumption will be 1.7, which is roughly the equivalent of a single Tic Tac or half a Smartie.
The Health and Care Bill will also outlaw promotional offers like ‘buy one get one free’ on those unhealthy foods, despite the fact that huge numbers of families living on the bread line rely on those offers to make ends meet. Research from the Food and Drink Federation estimates that this move will cost the average household an extra £160 per year. 25 per cent of consumers worry that without those special offers, they will be unable to pay for their weekly shopping. Once again, the lowest-income households are disproportionately affected – these policies make the poor poorer.
The narrative underpinning this policy approach is profoundly insulting. It implies a patronising elitism. It suggests that politicians in Westminster pity the average Joe, believing him unable to make sensible dietary choices for himself and finding it impossible to resist a three-for-two promotion on chocolate, causing his weight to balloon. What happened to freedom of choice and personal responsibility?
Even worse than the insult, though, is the injury. Poverty and food insecurity are already major issues in this country – with Red Wall areas disproportionately affected, one might add – and the cost-of-living crisis is going to plunge many more families into the appalling predicament of having to decide between feeding themselves and heating their homes.
£160 extra per year on your essential expenses might not sound like a make-or-break amount, but with the average household set to lose out by thousands because of the cost-of-living crisis anyway, an extra £15 or so per month will be missed by many. The kicker is that it’s completely unnecessary. The data is crystal clear that nanny-state approaches to obesity of this kind have never worked, and they never will.
In 2019, huge swathes of the country voted Conservative, many of them doing so for the first time in a generation. They have been swindled. The government they have ended up with is not Conservative. Boris Johnson campaigned for the leadership of the Tory party in 2019 on a platform of rolling back “the continuing creep of the nanny state”. Today, he is a completely different politician.
If the dozens of Tory MPs who were elected in Red Wall seats in 2019 wish to keep their jobs at the next election, it is imperative that they stand up against this kind of nanny-state nonsense now. Their constituents will not forgive them for needlessly inflating their food shopping bills at the time when they were struggling most of all. Ham-fistedly using apparatus of the state to try to correct perceived public health issues will always do much more harm than good.