Junk Food Bans and Cost of Living

Questions to the Mayor of London – answered on 25th October 2022.

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Photo of Andrew Boff Andrew Boff Conservative

Has your position on junk food bans changed in light of cost of living challenges?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

I am deeply concerned about the impact of the cost of living crisis on Londoners and the level of food insecurity that exists across our city. We know that 40% of Londoners have struggled to pay their food bills in the last three months and that many are having to make changes to the way they live. With costs continuing to spiral, this is only set to get worse. It should not be the case that families are forced to choose between healthy and unhealthy food for themselves and their children because of these financial pressures. All children deserve the right to thrive and eat healthy, nutritious food.

We know that policies such as the Soft Drinks Industry Levy, known as the sugar tax, and the TfL advertising restriction make it easier for people to avoid unhealthy food and drink. The introduction of the levy has seen many companies reduce the sugar content of their drinks, making them healthier, without costing the public more. Steps like this are important in addressing high child obesity rates and supporting the long‑term health of our young Londoners.

Since the TfL advertising restriction was introduced three years ago, research has found that among other health benefits it has been estimated to have prevented almost 100,000 obesity cases, with the most disadvantaged communities expected to see the greatest benefit. Businesses have continued to advertise by promoting their healthier products, with no loss of advertising revenue.

The policy is supporting families to make healthier choices, and instead of asking struggling Londoners to turn to junk food the Government must instead act urgently to address the cost of living crisis. They must ensure that families in London and across the UK are properly supported and can access healthy and nutritious meals for them and their children. They could start by increasing benefits in line with inflation, providing free school meals for all primary‑aged schoolchildren, giving London devolved powers to freeze private sector rent, and taking action to combat the surging cost of energy without putting the cost on the taxpayer. I am doing what I can to support Londoners from City Hall and I am helping them to access the support they need to reduce their costs or maximise their incomes through the Cost of Living Hub, but only the Government has the powers to make the difference needed and it can and must do more.

Photo of Andrew Boff Andrew Boff Conservative

Did you attend the Labour conference this year, Mr Mayor?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

Most of it, not all of it.

Photo of Andrew Boff Andrew Boff Conservative

Perhaps you did not get a chance to listen to Wes Streeting [MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care], who, when talking about junk food bans, said:

“I’m not tin‑eared enough to say that a Labour Government would do that in the middle of a cost of living crisis. I don’t think that would be the right thing to do right now.”

Why is it that Wes Streeting understands this, and you do not?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

What he said was that it is not an immediate priority and I agree with him. It is not an immediate priority. The immediate priority is addressing the cost of living crisis and rectifying the mini‑Budgets. That means addressing the issue of energy bills, addressing the issue of people’s rents, addressing the issue of interest rates, addressing the issue of the pound crashing. Those are the immediate priorities and that is what Wes said.

Photo of Andrew Boff Andrew Boff Conservative

He basically referred to junk food bans as being not a priority and not something we should be doing now at a time when families are and will be struggling to make ends meet.

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

I agree with Wes. The immediate priority is the Government sorting out its economic policy in relation to compounding what was already going to be a horrible autumn and winter. That is the immediate priority.

Photo of Andrew Boff Andrew Boff Conservative

What is it about the cost of living crisis that means that it does not need to be addressed in London now? You are saying that the junk food ban in London takes priority over measures to ensure that families can afford food.

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

No. Wes Streeting was talking about the buy‑one‑get‑one‑free deals with junk food that the Government has delayed. We are talking about something different, which is advertising on the public transport network. That very much should carry on and it is going to carry on. The issue that Wes Streeting was talking about was whether buy‑one‑get‑one‑free offers should be the immediate priority.

The reality is and the evidence is, by the way, that these offers lead to people buying more junk food, but often they have to spend a huge amount of additional money to get the benefits of these offers. The figures are remarkable. A family would have to spend £370 extra to get a £70 saving. What this buy‑one‑get‑one‑free deal is doing is two things. Firstly, it is inadvertently encouraging families to spend much more money. It is not rocket science. That is what supermarkets want. Secondly, it is driving them towards foods high in fat, sugar and salt, rather than the good stuff. That is the issue with buy‑one‑get‑one‑free deals.

The Government agrees with me, by the way, or it did until [The Rt Hon] Liz Truss [MP, Prime Minister] did a U‑turn. What Wes is talking about is whether that is the immediate priority. I agree with him. That is not the immediate priority. The immediate priority is sorting out the mess the Government has made of the economy.

Photo of Andrew Boff Andrew Boff Conservative

Some while ago I published a report called Tipping the Scales and I sent you a copy. One of those recommendations was that some of the advertising space on the transport network should be used to encourage healthy eating. Is that something that you would take up?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

I can certainly look into it. Apologies. I cannot remember the details of the report. I can look into how we can use the space on the TfL advertising estate to send good public health messages. That clearly is good. By the way, you look great after losing weight. If it is good for you, it is good for the rest of London as well. Maybe you can give us some tips on how the rest of us can lose weight. I am more than happy for the TfL estate to have good messages on it, including addressing public health inequalities. They go towards obesity. They go towards smoking. They go towards sexually transmitted infections and diseases. They go towards vaccines, which I talked about in my opening statement.

Photo of Andrew Boff Andrew Boff Conservative

Sorry, I am still felled by that rather random reference. Perhaps that undertaking would be useful, because more carrot and less stick is something that we can demonstrate works when addressing childhood obesity. Public information works. Working at a local level works. Junk food bans do not work.

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

The problem is ‑ and it is good question you have asked ‑ that the evidence is that you are wrong. You are wrong because of two pieces of really important evidence, one from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicines and a second, separately, from the University of Sheffield, both of which showed that as a direct consequence of our policies of banning foods that are high in fats, sugar and salt, there have been remarkable benefits in London in relation to families who, hitherto, were having big issues and have seen big benefits. The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicines evaluated and showed that my policy, which you are against, contributed to households buying up to 1,000 fewer calories of energy from unhealthy foods each week. The second report from the University of Sheffield showed 94,867 fewer cases of obesity, with savings to the NHS of over £200 million. We have two pieces of independent reports from experts, versus Andrew Boff. I know who I believe.

Photo of Andrew Boff Andrew Boff Conservative

Of course, those reports do not show that, they are comparisons between London and the northeast of England, but I will leave it there. Thank you, sir.