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Daniel Valentine works in London in public relations.

Households are facing the biggest fall in disposable income for three decades, according to the Bank of England, due to rising energy bills, increasing costs of fuel and a background of rising inflation with CPI for January reaching 5.5 per cent.

With a rise in national insurance and income tax also coming in April, the Bank of England has predicted that 2022 will see a fall in average income after tax of two per cent, which is the biggest fall since records began in 1990. The combination of rising costs and rising taxes will leave a typical household £1,300 out of pocket per annum.

The social and political consequences of this are likely to be far reaching. Many households are contemplating painful cuts to their expenditure and to their lifestyles in order to prevent the build-up of personal debt. For many, the weekly shop will need to be trimmed, major purchases will be deferred, and foreign holidays are likely to become an unattainable luxury.

All of this means that now is a uniquely bad time for the Government to start playing around with the prices of core food and drink products.

It may come as news to many consumers that ministers are planning to introduce new pricing restrictions into supermarkets which will ban the discounting of many products in the typical shopping trolley, and increase substantially the price of a weekly shop. 2022 is a year when people will rely on discounts heavily, but it’s also the year when the Government will ban consumers from enjoying one of their most loved deals, the supermarket multi-deal.

In October, The Food (Promotion and Placement) (England) Regulations 2021 are expected to come into force. The new regulations, introduced by Statutory Instrument, and without proper parliamentary scrutiny, will create a byzantine system of regulations for the pricing and displaying of foods classified as “high in fat, sugar and salt” (HFSS), a category which includes soft drinks, biscuits, cakes, crisps, yoghurts, sweets, cereals, pastries, ice cream, pizza, chips, and prepared meals.

The new regulations ban “the express offer of a financial incentive for buying multiple items compared with buying each item separately”. i.e. any offers that make food cheaper to consumers if they buy in larger quantities. This means the end of the much loved “buy one get one free”, “three for the price of two”, “3 for £10” and “50 per cent extra free” deals. In-store product location will also be restricted; HFSS products may not be placed in checkout aisles, at the ends of store aisles, or in store entrances.  Finally, free refills for sodas will also be prohibited.

Consumers will start to notice the changes in the summer, as supermarkets prepare for the Orwellian rules by moving store furniture, and as manufacturers start to wind-down promotional offerings.

Nobody doubts that the UK, in common with many other nations, has a growing problem with obesity. Calling obesity “a time bomb”, the Government has said it wants to urgently tackle the issue as official statistics show approximately 28 per cent of the population is obese. Nearly eight per cent of critically ill patients with Covid-19 in intensive care units have been morbidly obese, compared with 2.9 per cent of the general population.

However, bringing in new rules on HFSS is the wrong approach and it is being introduced at the wrong time. Obesity is a social problem with many causes. Mere marketing restrictions won’t solve such a complex problem. The new rules are poorly designed and will fail to deal with the obesity problem that the UK faces, whilst hurting all consumers, especially the poorest.

The new rules are misconceived, ill-designed, and patronising. Most people use chocolate, crisps and fizzy drinks in a sensible way, and the current food labelling already allows consumers to make sensible choices and avoid food which is high in salt, sugar or fat.

The new rules are clumsy on at least two dimensions: they hit a wide variety of food types, including many foods that are not “binge” or “treat” foods, and also hit all consumers, including those who eat responsibly and those who are on tight budgets.

I challenge you to read the new restrictions on pricing or placement and not be utterly horrified at both the bureaucratic nonsense being forced upon food retailers, and the patronising mindset that dreamt this red tape up. This is classic middle-class meddling from the public health bien-pensants which will hit poorest households hardest. Quelle surprise.

Indeed, the new rules will hit poorer consumers with a double whammy. Poorer consumers spend a higher proportion of their income on food, and also rely more on price discounts from multibuys to get good value. It has been estimated that the new rules will cost the average shopper £160 a year, which is an increase of some seven per cent for the families in the bottom decile of income.

The timing of the new rules is uniquely bad. The proposals come at the worst possible time for an industry reeling from the Covid-19 crisis, and for consumers hit by a series of cuts to their disposable income.

It would be better if the Government backed up and had a rethink, before it piles more costs and restrictions onto manufacturers, retailers and consumers. The UK has a highly respected self-regulatory system, which already imposes tough rules on HFSS products. Working with industry is the better approach, and the traditional, consensual British approach at that. The way to make regulation work is to involve experts from within the industry.

Obesity is a complex problem, and these new rules will do nothing to reduce it. Any legislation that hits the poorest hardest should be carefully considered, because the costs will likely outweigh the benefits. Britain loves its “multi-buys” and the government which abolishes them is sure to pay a price.