Harry Fairhead is a Policy Analyst at the TaxPayers’ Alliance.
The nanny state is encroaching ever further into our lives: only recently we’ve been told to take care playing pooh-sticks and to be more careful about what we eat (via an enormously expensive campaign and website to boot). We have been threatened with minimum unit pricing for alcohol; and government has finally lumped us with a sugar tax.
The particularly pernicious aspect of the public health lobby is that all too often they call for policies which deliberately aim to drive up the cost of living. Take the sugar tax, for example: all international evidence suggests that it will have a negligible effect on the nations’ waistlines, but it has been pushed through to satisfy the nannies’ irresistible desire to meddle. There’s an attitude of ‘something must be done’, even if all the evidence shows it won’t work.
The health benefits of the sugar tax will be miniscule (we estimate fewer than five calories per person per day), however, it will take £520 million from taxpayers’ pockets just for having the temerity to indulge themselves in a refreshing drink every once in a while. And, of course, it will hit those on low incomes the hardest. This is hardly fair.
Besides, slapping new taxes on businesses has the knock on effect of harming employment prospects: we think the sugar tax could lead to over 5500 fewer jobs.
So the nannies have won and have got their way: they will drive up the cost of living and put jobs at risk for barely any benefit. But, behind the pinafores, who are these nannies?
The high priests, to mix my metaphors, are found in Public Health England, where over 199 people were paid more than £100,000, with 41 further part time employees earning such enormous salaries on a pro rata basis.
This does, perhaps, give some context. It is very easy to cheerlead policies that increase the cost of living when you are sat behind a Whitehall desk earning £200,000 (Duncan Selbie, Chief Executive).
Their language is couched in the terms that they know what is best for you. In welcoming the sugar tax, Selbie said: “A sugary drinks levy is fabulous news for children and families in helping them to cut back on sugar.” As if the tax was simply a gentle helping hand rather than a viciously regressive tax that will try (but largely fail) to coerce people in to doing as they are told. When put like this, it is a bit less ‘fabulous’.
But the nanny state extends much further than just central government: indeed, its prams are parked on our front lawns all over the country. Since the Health and Social Care Act of 2012, many councils have their very own Director of Public Health and a whole department dedicated to this vital role. The said directors are supposed to “be able to promote action across the life course” and “work through Local Resilience Fora”. No, I don’t know what this means either.
More sinisterly, they are supposed to know “how to change behaviour”, taking us back into the rather ominous territory of assuming that the public doesn’t know what is good for it. And this seems the key point about the nanny state we live in: it seems that the whole system is designed to take decisions about how we live our lives away from us and abdicate all responsibility to the great god State.
Call me an old-fashioned 25 year old, but I know that putting on sun cream is probably a good idea, I know that drinking ten pints of lager in a single sitting is probably a bad idea. However, I don’t want these decisions taken away from me.
In our new report, the Nanny State Wish List, the TaxPayers’ Alliance identifies 325 taxpayer-funded public health employees across the country. Combined with Public Health England’s budget of around £3.6 billion (all figures 2014-15), this is an expensive and powerful lobby. It is almost certain that the majority of taxpayers do not know that their money goes towards telling them how to live their lives.
There are certainly areas where guidance is welcome, but I struggle to imagine that there are many people baying for more information about the hours in which it is advisable to wear sunglasses. The nanny statists should rein their necks in and concentrate on delivering core services – rather than calling for higher taxes and greater interference in our daily lives.