The government has broken the promise to pump millions of pounds of sugary drinks tax money into improving children’s healthy diets, campaigners say.

Food Campaigners and MPs are today calling on the government to maintain a pledge when the Soft Drinks Industry Levy (SDIL, also known as the Sugary Drinks Tax), was introduced, that ‘every penny of England’s share of the spending raised by the Levy will go towards improving children’s health’.[i]

In the first year of the levy, the government announced a series of investments in 2018/19, including £160 million to double thePrimary PE and Sports Premium, a one-year Healthy Pupils Capital Fund of £100 million, up to £26 million over two years for a new National School Breakfast Programme, and £22 million for the Enhancing Life Skills programme.

However, apart from the continued higher level of support for primary sports and PE, and one further grant of £11 million for school breakfasts, there have since been no new commitments.

The Children’s Food Campaign now suggests that of an estimated £1.4 billion passed to the Department for Education, a total of around £700 million in promised money for children’s health is now unaccounted for since the introduction of the Soft Drinks Industry Levy in 2018.

Barbara Crowther, co-ordinator of the Children’s Food Campaign, said: ‘The government promised both the soft drinks industry and the public that every penny of the sugary drinks tax would be spent on children’s healthy diets and wellbeing. At a time that health inequalities, child hunger and childhood obesity are all growing faster than ever as a result of the current pandemic and lockdown measures, it is scandalous that hundreds of millions of pounds of this tax money is simply disappearing without trace.’

Chair of the Education Select Committee, Robert Halfon MP, who called for the Soft Drinks Industry Levy income to be used during Parliamentary debates over feeding hungry children during school holidays, said: ‘The sugary drinks tax raises more than £330 million a year. More than half of it is unaccounted for. This money should be redirected to programmes that tackle food insecurity amongst children and boost life chances - initiatives like the National School Breakfast programme run by Magic Breakfast, which we know help pupils make an additional 2 months academic progress over the course of a year.’

In new report Refreshing Investment in Children’s Health released yesterday (11 January 2020), Sustain & Children’s Food Campaign call on the government to adopt the following key recommendations:

  • Ensure at least 50% of all revenues from the Soft Drinks Industry Levy are used for healthy food investment initiatives by schools and local authorities, matching the £160m being used for Primary schools sports and PE premiums.
  • Use this money to establish a new Healthy Food Innovation Fund, enabling schools to address rising health inequalities and childhood obesity with projects to boost healthy eating in school. Sustain is calling for this to be a multi-year fund of a minimum of £100m per year, managed via local authorities and academy trusts, as the 2018/19 Healthy Pupils Capital Fund.
  • Continue use the Soft Drinks Industry Levy income in support of the National School Breakfast Programme in 2021/22, until national legislation as proposed in the current School Breakfast Bill, establishes a statutory requirement for every state school to provide a healthy breakfast for any child that needs it, and funding to deliver this..

As part of the report Sustain researched how schools and local authorities made use of the additional money from the 2018/19 Healthy Pupils Capital Fund, and also consulted school teachers and public health networks on the needs that a similar future fund might address. The report demonstrates how such funding can support schools with infrastructure and interventions including upgrading kitchen and dining room facilities, training of staff and nutrition education projects, establishing kitchen gardens and food growing schemes.

The report, Refreshing Investment in Children’s Health, is available on Sustain’s website.

Further year-on-year breakdown of the government’s forecasted SDIL revenues for investment in children’s health vs actual spend are available on request.

A webinar and debate will be held on Monday 18 January 2021. To register a place visit

[i] Official Report, Sixth Delegated Legislation Committee, February 2018;c.3