Daily Express: Boris used to be libertarian – so why now this nanny state?

This article was published in the Daily Express.

FOOD prices are going up and they will only continue to do so. It has been clear since at least October that a combination of factors including supply chain issues and post-pandemic labour shortages would interrupt the smooth manufacture and distribution of food and increase costs for consumers.

As a result, our weekly shopping bills are about to become a lot more expensive. Very soon, families up and down the country will suddenly find that they have run out of money before the end of the month. In fact, more and more harrowing stories are already emerging of many having to choose between heating their homes and feeding themselves. Against that backdrop, it is baffling that this government is persisting with its wrongheaded anti-obesity drive, at great and direct cost to struggling families. Once upon a time, Boris Johnson used to call himself ‘libertarian’ and speak of Britain as a ‘land of liberty’.

In fact, during his campaign for the Tory leadership in 2019, he pledged to roll back ‘the continuing creep of the nanny state’. Now, though, he is determined to slim Britain down by directly attacking unhealthy foods.

His Health and Care Bill contains a number of provisions aimed at reducing purchases of foods the government decides are ‘unhealthy’. It will ban advertising those foods on television and radio before 9pm in a new watershed, and at any time online. That policy will come at immense cost to the broadcasting, advertising and food industries, but according to the government’s own analysis, it will only remove 1.7 calories from kids’ diets per day – roughly the equivalent of a single Tic Tac or half a Smartie.

The bill will also outlaw promotional offers such as ‘buy one get one free’ on offending foods. Hoping to keep to your tight shopping budget by using a ‘3 for 2’ on crisps for the kids’ school lunch boxes? Think again. The government has decided that you’re either incapable or unwilling to make healthy choices for yourself and your family, so they are going to forcibly make those decisions for you through aggressive new nanny-state regulation.

Where the government should be easing strain on our wallets, it is instead actively worsening the cost-of-living crisis by implementing new rules which will add extra artificial costs onto our shopping bills. Research from the Food and Drink Federation predicts that the measures in the Health and Care Bill will top up our food expenses to the tune of £160 per year.

That might not sound like a bank-breaking figure, but when struggling families are already penny-pinching and still failing to make ends meet, an extra £15 or so disappearing every month will seem like a lost fortune. Food prices are going up anyway, as are our energy bills, fuel costs and National Insurance contributions. The last thing the government should be doing is unnecessarily making the everyday essentials even more expensive.

Food prices are the eye of the storm of the cost-of-living crisis. Everything is interlinked. For instance, rising gas prices directly affect manufacture and distribution costs, and those increased costs filter through to the supermarket shelves. It is a vicious cycle.

On an industrial scale, food prices have been quietly climbing for some time, mostly due to non-economic factors such as poor wheat harvests. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation puts the year-on-year increase in global food commodity prices at 30%. To date, those price increases have been largely absorbed by manufacturers, who had a vested interest in keeping prices down.

But now, given the perfect storm of political and economic problems closing in on consumers, prices in shops will inevitably rise a great deal. That means it’s crunch time – time to pull out all the stops to make sure no British family has to go without food or heating.

It is not the time for virtue-signalling on obesity through damaging and ineffective new rules and regulations. Resisting the further growth of the nanny state is the only way to keep household costs down and safeguard our most fundamental freedoms of choice in the name of personal responsibility.

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