By Paul Walker 15/01/2018


In March 2016, Chancellor George Osborne announced a ‘sugar levy’ on manufacturers of soft drinks. Intended to begin in April 2018, the plan is for a two-tier tax with one rate set for drinks containing more

The IEA in London has released a short paper, The Sugar Levy: A Briefing, on the ‘sugar levy’ that was announced in March 2016 by the then Chancellor, George Osborne, in the UK.

A summary of the paper’s conclusion reads:

  • In March 2016, George Osborne announced a ‘sugar levy’ on soft drink companies to start in April 2018. Under this policy, companies will be taxed on sales of medium and high sugar drinks (excluding fruit juice and milk-based drinks).
  • As an anti-obesity policy, the sugar levy seems arbitrary. Consumption of both sugar and sugary drinks has been falling for years while obesity has been rising. Soft drinks make only a small contribution to average calorie intake. Comparisons between European countries show no correlation between sugary drink consumption and obesity.
  • There is unambiguous evidence that ‘sin taxes’ of this sort take a greater share of income from the poor than from the rich. Since low income groups tend to buy larger quantities of SSBs, the impact of the sugar levy will be particularly regressive.
  • The Office for Budget Responsibility says the levy will increase inflation by a quarter of a per cent in 2018-19 thereby adding £1 billion to accrued interest payments on index-linked gilts. The inflationary effect will raise the cost of index-linked salaries, pensions and benefits by many millions of pounds. The levy will also require additional funding for enforcement and administration. For the first few years, at least, the sugar levy will be loss-making.
  • Hopes of extensive reformulation to reduce sugar content in the soft drink market are highly unrealistic. There is no more sugar to be removed from diet drinks and companies will not change the recipe of their popular original brands. Instead, the levy gives companies the perverse incentive to raise sugar levels up to the threshold of each tax bracket.

Such results should act as a a cautionary tale for those wanting such taxes in other countries.