The UK Government has admitted a sugar tax is unlikely to feature in its childhood obesity strategy, as it emerged publication of the long-awaited plan would be further delayed.
The strategy has been pushed back to the summer, a UK Department of Health spokesperson confirmed. Although the strategy would have applied to England, duty on food and drink is reserved to Westminster, so the tax would have applied in Scotland.
England's childhood obesity strategy was originally set to be published in December, but has been beset by delays amid growing calls for a tax on sugary drinks from health professionals, both north and south of the border.
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“It is a very complex issue and there is a lot of work going on to get it right,” the spokesperson told the Guardian. “There are a lot of different issues that need considering and we want to make sure it is right when we put it out. David Cameron and Jeremy Hunt have said they want it to be a game-changing moment.”
Pressed on the inclusion of a sugar tax, which has been demanded by campaigners and endorsed by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, the spokesperson said:
“As far as I’m aware it’s not in there. We as a government are committed to keeping taxes low and not introducing new taxes.”
The spokesperson added: “I don’t think it will be in there”.
The Scottish Government has no plans to go it alone on the issue either, despite Food Standards Scotland recommending the move in its first report. Public health minister Maureen Watt said duty remained a reserved power.
"We have no plans to introduce a sugar tax – and in any case, we don’t currently have the direct power to do so. However, Food Standards Scotland have just done a paper on this, and there are also three Cochrane reviews on-going about the effect of food taxes. We’ll consider all this evidence going forward.," she said.
At the launch of a review of the obesity route map in Scotland this week Dr Andrew Fraser, Director of Public Health Science, Health Scotland said: “We need to work together urgently to change minds and change expectations about good food, reduced calorie consumption and all influences on healthy weight. We will work with a range of organisations, local and national government and community groups to reduce the burden of disease caused by obesity, and all resultant consequences on the NHS and public services.”