Taxing weight, not emissions

In the last b, the Chancellor announced a change in car tax for all those folks who are lucky enough to drive big SUVs – or cars that are less than fuel efficient. This was the announcement, ripped from

Fuel duties will rise by 1.25p a litre from September 1, 2006.

A new range of graduated Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) rates become effective from midnight on 22 March 2006, ranging from zero up to £215 depending on carbon dioxide emmissions. The effect will be that the duty paid on 50 per cent of cars will be frozen or reduced from midnight.

Friends of the Earth, of course, believe that the rate should be higher still (and say so loudly, in between wanting to kill Jeremy Clarkson, that “bigoted petrol-head”)

I wondered, idly, if the next campaign topic is to tax obese people – or, specifically, those who put a greater burden on the nation’s infrastructure through being less “fuel efficient” or through consuming greater amounts of services than others.

It’s generally accepted that increasing obesity will result in a far greater bill for taking care of people as they age and with greater numbers of children obese now, the shift in costs could be dramatic. But we also know that not all obese kids grow to obese adult, that is, it’s a reversible condition (perhaps unlike climate change). The earlier we start, the sooner the change occurs and the better the opportunity to reduce the future burden.

We tax cigarettes heavily (and increasingly), recovering most of the burden that they place on the nation’s care infrastructure (it’s even possible that the government gets more in tax than is spent in dealing with the consequences of smoking). Overall rates of smoking are decreasing. In the last 30 years the overall rate of smoking has dropped from 45% to 26%. It’s unclear (to me) whether that’s driven by increasing awareness of the health risks or the increasing tax – although the page I link to says that 9 in 10 smokers who want to give up cite a health-related reason (and it’s an ONS survey) – but it is likely to be a combination.

So why wouldn’t we tax clothes – size 10 is taxed at current rates and size 16 is taxed at double current rates? Maybe size 8 attracts a positive return – i.e. the price is lower (government pays you to be thin?). We could move to tiered tax rates in McDonald’s too – a BigMac is taxed at 40%, a salad is untaxed. The increase in tax revenues would go on campaigns to encourage healthier eating and on bolstering care in the NHS.

The fitter you are, the smaller you are, the more you exercise, the less tax you pay. If the tax rates were optimised, you could be encouraged to get fitter and pay less than you pay now – a new lower tax rate for fit people. After all, life insurance companies charge you less if you don’t smoke and some, I’ve heard, reduce rates further if you’re a regular gym visitor.

I can see the crys of alarm now. Obesity, like smoking, is prevalent in the lower end of the socio-economic scale. Taxing people more at this end would be unfair and politically impossible. But not long ago we thought it was impossible to raise the age of retirement or to close pension schemes leaving people with no money. Not long ago we thought that we could get away without reducing energy consumption and without trying to be carbon neutral as corporates.

Could be a real zinger for David Cameron to talk about when he next wants to cover General Well Being.

4 thoughts on “Taxing weight, not emissions

  1. While we have some control over our weight and obesity, some of this is hereditary, so taxing purely on clothing size would be wrong.Increasing tax on unhealthy foods, however, sounds like a good idea, one that would encourage people to eat healthier, and restaurants to provide healthy options. Zero tax on fruit would be a good start.On a similar \’saving\’ theme, the hosepipe ban strikes me as somewhat bizarre. Someone who chooses to sacrifice personal hygiene should be allowed to water their lawn or wash their car. It would make more sense for Thames Water to give a water allowance per individual in the household, after which water would be charged at a premium.

  2. christ this is heading to total f***ing nanny state – dan, where do you keep your black shirts? Got any good ideas what to do with the gypsies or the handicapped once you have sorted out the obese?I just can\’t believe this – what you on, cos I don\’t want any.

  3. Ah, but did you see the giles coren TV show last sunday…other people are catching on to this idea…you read it here first

  4. while targeting obese people marketing research has shown that with smoking educational campaigns and targeting the joung is more efective than punitive strategies such as tax. Education as well as awernes seems to me the way forward

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