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Little to improve health

Hugh Montgomery

Professor Hugh Montgomery, UCL Division of Medicine

This is a budget which didn’t really offer much on health.

The increase in tobacco duty rates by 2% above inflation is welcome, although an ambitious minimum price per unit for alcohol should have been agreed and launched. We could have seen much greater ambition, too, in tackling public health through action on food, perhaps in taxing high-saturated-fat and high-salt foods more, whilst introducing levers to make fruit and vegetables cheaper and encourage more healthy eating.

One of the greatest threats to human health is climate change, and again there is not much good news in the budget on this. For a start, it is by no means clear that this is the ‘greenest Government ever’ – a target price of £30 per ton in 2020 means little without being binding and is in any case too late.

Furthermore, the cut in fuel duty and abolition of the fuel duty escalator would seem to undermine efforts to reduce car travel and consequent carbon emissions, although the freeze in company car tax for cars emitting less than 95g/km from April 2013 is a welcome move. This appears to be a budget for motorists that has overlooked the opportunity to stimulate other forms of transport that are greener and healthier – including cycling (if cars have a price per mile in tax terms, offsets could be given for those who use bikes).

Overall it’s disappointing that the Budget hasn’t introduced more measures that could help to improve public health and mitigate climate change. Whilst there are a number of measures related to regulation and tax incentives, these are confined to motorists and business - the Government seems content to rely on ‘nudging’ to encourage low-carbon and healthy behaviour.

Hugh Montgomery is Professor of Intensive Care Medicine and Director of the UCL Institute for Human Health and Performance. He can be contacted here.

Page last modified on 24 mar 11 14:18