Reaction: Red Wall voters won’t forgive Tory MPs for worsening the cost-of-living crisis

This article was published on Reaction.

You might not realise it, but food prices have been rising for some time. Issues such as poor wheat harvests and increasing costs for farm machinery have quietly pushed prices up behind the scenes. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates a year-on-year rise of 30%. Most of those costs were absorbed by the manufacturing and distributions industries, so did not filter through to consumers – until now.

A perfect storm of problems – supply chain disruptions, energy prices, inflation and so on – is boiling over. Combined with existing food commodity cost increases, it is beginning to have a substantial impact on prices on supermarket shelves. Food prices are about to boom, and they will be a key component of the crushing cost-of-living crisis to come this year.

And yet, incredibly, the government remains wrapped up in its anti-obesity nanny-state fantasy. It is choosing now, of all times, to dive-bomb into an enormous expansion of the state, ushering in reams of fresh red tape to make life more difficult for businesses and add extra unnecessary costs to struggling households’ monthly outgoings.

The Health and Care Bill contains a number of misguided provisions aimed at tackling obesity through new regulation. They include the long-awaited ‘junk food ad ban’, an extraordinary policy which will cost the broadcast industry alone £200 million and reduce children’s calorie consumption by a grand total of 1.7 calories per day. That’s roughly the equivalent of a single Tic Tac, or half a Smartie.

Where the ad ban is costly for industry, other new measures in the Health and Care Bill will cost consumers money directly. For instance, promotional deals such as ‘buy one get one free’ will be banned for foods the government decides are unhealthy. Many families rely on special offers like that to make ends meet and will suffer as a result of this move.

The Food and Drink Federation estimates the new rules will top up annual food shopping bills by £160 on average. The lowest earners are set to face an 11 per cent increase in their food expenses. We are already hearing harrowing stories of families having to choose between heating their homes and feeding their children and the situation will worsen over the next few months. Ill-advised, costly government intervention of this kind will only accelerate it.

Despite all the evidence to the contrary, the government clings to its backwards mentality that the nanny state can eliminate obesity. No one voted for the nanny state in 2019 – certainly not Red Wall voters – but we’re getting it anyway. To insist that restricting access to unhealthy foods will make Britain slimmer is infantilising and insulting. How must you see obese people if you think banning ‘3 for 2’ on crisps and chocolate will cause them to lose weight?

More concerning even than the government looking down on and talking down to ordinary people about their dietary choices is the economic consequences of this policy direction. Food insecurity could become a burning issue in various Red Wall areas in the coming months. A survey found that one in four consumers worry they will now be unable to pay for their weekly shopping with so many special offers axed. The additional costs from these regulations will disproportionately affect the poorest families in the poorest areas, many of which fall within the Red Wall.

In that context, it’s barmy that the government appears more concerned that the food we buy is healthy than accessible. It has no problem denying struggling families the ability to fill their shopping family, leaving them to go hungry for whole days at a time, just as long as their trolley doesn’t contain an unacceptable number of high-fat or high-sugar products. The thinking is completely back-to-front.

Tory MPs across Wales, the midlands and the north should think very carefully indeed about signing off absent-mindedly on an unprecedented expansion of the nanny state which will bring cost their poorest constituents money in a direct, observable way. Voters will undoubtedly notice the way their shopping habits are forced to change around the new regulations, and they will see the effects on their wallets. Many leant the Conservative Party their vote for the first time in a generation in 2019 – when they see what their new Tory MPs are doing for them, they might never vote blue again.

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