Monday 30th September 2013 marked the first anniversary of the introduction of VAT on sports nutrition products. A black day for sports nutrition, a shocking day for people all over the country dedicated to fitness and self-improvement #blackmonday #3million.
As part of the overhaul of VAT in the UK it was decided to address inconsistencies whereby certain drinks were standard rated at 20% (e.g. Gatorade) whilst others (whey protein) were not. The change in the rules therefore brought 20% VAT to all standard whey, creatine and amino acids, thereby raising costs significantly for users.
Of course, this all took place in the wider review of VAT, made in a country desperately short of money looking for low hanging fruit.
Why sports nutrition?
In the definition of sports nutrition there is some interesting terminology. They specifically target products advertised or marketed to “enhance physical performance, accelerate recovery after exercise or build bulk”. A regular gym goer might consider all these as positives. But reading into the mind of the writer you can see how their world view is coloured. They see the Incredible Hulk and protein powder laced with drugs.
Politicians hardly noticed the feeble protests of the sports nutrition industry; despite a co-ordinated appeal, part funded by BULK POWDERS. They were quick to leap to the defence of the greasy pasty. They thought there were votes there – that’s what they thought we common people cared about. That’s what the press thought too, tucking into their VAT free bacon sandwiches.
So why did this really happen?
Politicians are not idiots. Furthermore, in this writer’s experience, they are not generally speaking ill-intentioned. They edged back from the pasty tax. But fundamentally they thought that sports nutrition was bad, their number of users small and therefore the likelihood of it back-firing also small. So what this really demonstrates is a fundamental generational issue. People of an age that sit in parliament, draft laws (or even write in the press, come to that) have no idea what sports nutrition is.
There is a massive gap here that needs closing. David Cameron (or Clegg or Miliband for that matter) may know who Coldplay are, they might even have eaten a pasty, but you can bet your boots they don’t know what creatine is.
The power of 3 million?
3 million is an interesting number. It is the number of people in the UK who use sports nutrition as part of a healthy and active lifestyle. It’s also (give or take 100,000) the number of UK sufferers of diabetes, the vast majority brought on by inactivity and obesity.
It’s a fantastic demonstration of the law of unintended consequences. The older generation don’t understand nutrition or even the basics of well being. They tax good health and leave pasties and cake at zero rate.
So what do we do next?
The next election is going to be close. This represents a huge opportunity to educate our politicians, to tell them about the 3 million voters and remind them of the £1.5 million the NHS spends every hour on diabetes. And if they really ask “Yes but we have tough choices, where will we find the money?”, remind them of the £1.14 billion market in cake that currently goes completely untaxed.
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