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The Chancellor has done it for sugary drinks. Now, will he go on to do the same for even bigger issues - like the air pollution that's killing tens of thousands of British citizens a year? Photo: Roy Schreffler via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA).
The Chancellor has done it for sugary drinks. Now, will he go on to do the same for even bigger issues - like the air pollution that's killing tens of thousands of British citizens a year? Photo: Roy Schreffler via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA).
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Chancellor is right to act on sugar. Next, air pollution!

Simon Bullock

17th March 2016

The Chancellor's 'sport not sugar' move to tax sugary drinks was extremely welcome, writes Simon Bullock. But we need a similar Treasury approach to protect people from other threats too. So how about tackling the air pollution that's killing tens of thousands of Britons a year?

Osborne's next Budget should build on his 'sport not sugar' initiative, and use this approach to tackle the other great scandals in modern British life. The outrage of the UK's killer air pollution would certainly be a great place to start.

George Osborne did an excellent thing in his Budget this year. He made a powerful moral case for action to improve the lives of people, particularly children.

He faced down relentless lobbying pressure from some of the country's biggest corporations. And he used the huge power of his Treasury to take action.

His sugar tax won't solve obesity on its own, but it is nonetheless a great start. It will put real pressure on manufacturers to do far more to reduce sugar in their products - seven teaspoons in a can of coke!

And because he has also linked the tax to spending, it will raise cash to improve sports facilities in our schools. It shouldn't be called a ‘sugar tax', but rather ‘sport not sugar'.

This sort of joined-up, in-the-public-interest initiative is exactly what a reforming Chancellor should be doing more of. It was one of the few measures in this year's  Budget which genuinely spoke to Mr Osborne's rhetoric about the need for a Budget for the long-term, and action for the next generation.

His sugar initiative does not balance out all of the other areas where action did not deliver for the next generation, which is why organisations like the Children's Society were so scathing of the Budget overall.

But his sugary drink initiative is something that Mr Osborne should get credit for, and encouragement to do more of the same.

Action needed to tackle air pollution

So, what could Mr Osborne do at the next Budget to build on this 'sport not sugar' approach?

The most obvious one is around the shocking levels of air pollution which are killing tens of thousands of people prematurely every year, and damaging the lungs and hearts of almost every child in every big town and city up and down the country.

This problem is mainly down to choking diesel fumes from road traffic. So, the Chancellor could introduce a higher road tax for new diesel cars and vans - as proposed on The Ecologist by the right-wing think tank Policy Exchange.

Under their scheme, new diesel vehicles would pay £800 for their first year's road tax as a penalty to discourage sales, while a scrappage scheme clearly targetted at air pollution would pay a similar sum to get the worst and most polluting diesel cars, vans, buses and taxis off our busy roads.

On your bike

George Osborne could take advantage of low oil prices to increase fuel duty by a penny. That would raise £2,200 million, which the Chancellor could plough into schemes to make walking and cycling safer in every city. Many parents will not allow their children to cycle to school, because of the horrendous traffic danger. I won't let mine.

Making cycling and walking safer will mean fewer children being driven to school - cutting down on rush-hour congestion, improving air quality, making children fitter, freeing more parents from the school run and giving kids more independence. Whether you're on the left or right of politics, surely everyone would want that?

Choking air, heavy traffic, dangerous streets: these are things that almost all adults and children see, feel, taste and endure every day in our cities and towns. A reforming Chancellor who willing to use the huge powers of the Treasury to deal with these problems would be making a massive improvement to the quality of life of all of us, but the next generation in particular. 

The Chancellor's next Budget should build on his 'sport not sugar' initiative, and use this approach to tackle the other great scandals in modern British life. Tackling the outrage of the UK's killer air pollution is just one of these - but it would certainly be a great place to start. 

 


 

Simon Bullock is senior energy campaigner at Friends of the Earth. He tweets @simonbullock.

Author's note: This article does not constitute support for the Chancellor's approach to climate change at Budget 2016!

More information: Friends of the Earth's in-depth reaction to the Chancellor's 2016 Budget.

 

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