Chocolate bars, fast food and ready meals may soon be subject to the sugar and salt tax

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Unhealthy snacks, fast food and ready meals may soon be subject to a new tax to encourage manufacturers to reduce the amount of sugar and salt in their products.

The tax, proposed by Henry Dimbleby in Part II of his National Food Strategy, would see manufacturers charging 0.3 pence per gram of sugar and 0.6 pence per gram of salt for use in processed foods or in restaurants and catering companies.

Known as the sugar and salt reformulation tax, the tax would be used to incent food manufacturers to reduce the levels of sugar and salt in their products, by reformulating their recipes or reducing the size of their portions.

Part of the income collected would then be used to provide fruit and vegetables to low-income families, according to the report’s recommendations.

The new tax, which the report said could generate up to £ 3.4 billion a year for the Treasury, would replace the tax on the soft drink industry – widely dubbed the ‘sugar tax’.

“CEOs of large food companies have told us privately that they cannot make these changes without government intervention,” the report says.

“They need a level playing field if they are to start making their products healthier, otherwise the competition will simply set in and undermine them.”

The low-tax campaign group, the Taxpayers Alliance (TPA), opposed the recommendation, which it called “middle-class interference.”

“This insane program will increase the costs of basic necessities,” said TPA chief executive John O’Connell.

“The government must categorically reject any tax increase and instead trust British families to make their own choices,” he added.

But health activists have supported the proposal.

“Not only will the tax incentivize more innovation and reformulation … it will build a better food system for a healthier nation,” said Graham MacGregor, professor of cardiovascular medicine at Queen Mary University in London and chairman of the Action on Salt campaign group.

The National Food Strategy has also recommended that all children in households with a family income below £ 20,000 receive free school meals.

Child food poverty became a national talking point last year after England footballer Marcus Rashford relied on free school mealss child, forced the Prime Minister to turn around and agree to provide free school meals during the holidays.

From reception to grade two, all children receive free school meals, but after that the eligibility threshold is set at an annual household income of less than £ 7,400 before allowances.

The first part of the strategy, published last July, recommended that the government extend free school meals to all children up to the age of 16 in households benefiting from universal credit.

However, since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, 230,000 other households with children have registered for universal credit. This brings the estimated cost of expanding the free school meals program from £ 670million to £ 790million.

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Now, in a revised recommendation, the report advises raising the income threshold to £ 20,000 before benefits. This would ensure that 82% of children in very low food security households, as defined by the government, and 70% of those with low food security would be entitled to free school meals.

The three-year average annual cost would be £ 544million.

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