Our reaction as policies to protect children's health are delayed by Government

Multi-buy promotions

We are extremely disappointed that the Government has decided to delay the introduction of restrictions to ban the advertising of unhealthy food and drinks on TV and online, and to ban multi-buy promotions on unhealthy food and drink. These policies were both commitments in the Government’s Obesity Strategy published nearly two years ago.  The promotions restrictions were signed into law on 2nd Dec 2021, and the advertising restrictions became law when the Health and Care Act 2022 received Royal Assent just 2 weeks ago.  It is a disgrace that they are now being delayed, at a time when it has never been so urgent to improve the nation’s health.  

We have previously welcomed this Government’s bold commitments to reducing obesity levels, but we now question whether we will be able to take further promises seriously in the face of continuing deferrals and delays, like those announced today.  We, along with many others who have been advocating these policies for many years, will be calling on Boris Johnson today to reverse this dreadful decision. 

Multi-buy promotions restrictions - delayed 

The deferral on introducing restrictions on multi-buy promotions has ostensibly been made to help mitigate the cost of living crisis, but we know multi-buy promotions are a false economy.  Junk food multi-buys are well-known to encourage unnecessary unplanned purchases – and therefore actually increase spending. The Government’s own figures show they increase the amount of food purchased by 22%. 

Our new polling shows people want to see promotions on core essentials rather than unhealthy food. Banning unhealthy food multi-buys would encourage businesses to reformulate their products and promote everyday essentials instead – promotions that will actually help save people money on their core food shop.  

Lidl has never used this type of promotion because they recognise they do not save customers money overall.  Sainsbury’s also phased them out a few years ago.  Other businesses have now invested significant resources in preparing for the implementation of these regulations, and will only be frustrated by delays and the uncertainty this creates. 

The Government is well aware of the evidence - that is why they committed to introducing this policy in the first place.  Though today's decision has been dressed up as a cost of living response, it is in reality the result of a prolonged campaign by a small number of anti-interventionist backbench MPs.  These measures passed with clear cross-party support and with the backing of the evidence, and it is shocking that they have been delayed today by a small minority. 

Advertising restrictions - delayed 

The justification given for delaying the introduction on new advertising restrictions is that industry needs more time to prepare.  The Government introduced an amendment to the Health and Care Bill when it was passing through Parliament to allow them to delay implementation of the restrictions, but the justification given at the time was that delays to the passage of the bill (by ~ 3 months) meant that Ofgem would need a little more time to prepare their detailed guidance on the regulations.  This was disappointing, but fair.  The 12 month delay that has been announced today cannot be justified on the same grounds.  It is a clear capitulation to aggressive industry lobbying. 

Obesity levels in children spiked during the pandemic; now more than ever we need stronger policy to tackle obesity. Obesity costs the NHS millions each year and delaying policies like this will mean these costs continue to grow, taking crucial funding away from other urgent needs.  

This week The Food Foundation released new data showing food insecurity levels have surged 57% in the past three months. The cost of living crisis is causing millions of people to struggle to afford good food. Delaying restrictions on advertising and marketing is in no way a substitute for the meaningful intervention required from Government in the form of more support for people on benefits and stronger nutritional safety net schemes (such as Free School Meals and Healthy Start) to ensure everyone can eat well.  

“Promotions like BOGOFs on unhealthy food don’t help with the cost-of-living crisis or the obesity crisis. These offers encourage people to spend more of food than they usually would and lead to overeating of junk food. Because of our experiences of not having enough money for food, the compulsion to eat while food is available is strong in my household so it will be binge-eaten, picked at, snacked on and will be gone before sunset.  If companies still want to promote products they should do price promotions on the essentials that we are struggling to buy now like bread, fruit and veg. Government should take real action to help with the cost of living crisis instead of taking further unhelpful measures like going back on their commitment to ban promotions of junk food” 

Kathleen Kerridge, Food Foundation Ambassador from Portsmouth

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