Lifestyle Economics

UK is second worst country in the EU for nanny state interference


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A league table of nanny state regulation puts Britain at the number two spot as the second most meddlesome country in the EU, behind only Finland. This is a deterioration on last year when the UK ranked third.

The 2017 Nanny State Index, published today by the Institute of Economic Affairs and the European Policy Information Centre (EPICENTER), gives every EU country a score out of 100 according to how it regulates private lifestyle choices.

Excessive regulation and punitive ‘sin taxes’ have resulted in the UK sitting second in the league table. Ireland takes the third spot. The Czech Republic gets the lowest score, making it officially the most liberal country in the EU.

The UK has some particularly punitive sin taxes. It has more than twice as many nanny state ‘points’ as the best performing countries, Germany and the Czech Republic. It has the highest taxes on cigarettes and wine in the EU and the second highest taxes on beer. The UK has seen a rising tide of lifestyle regulations in recent years, including:

  • Its smoking ban, introduced in 2007, allows fewer exemptions than that of almost any other country;

  • In May 2016, the UK and France became the first European countries to ban branding on tobacco products (‘plain packaging’);

  • A ban on ‘junk food’ advertising to children was extended to digital media in December 2016;

  • A UK-wide tax on sugary drinks is expected to be implemented in 2018;

  • There is a ban on sugary drinks in Scottish hospitals and both the Scottish and Welsh governments support minimum pricing for alcohol;

  • The only sliver of liberalism comes in the UK’s approach to e-cigarettes. Although the Welsh Assembly has proposed banning vaping in many indoor public places, no legislation forbids e-cigarette use in the UK.

It is not just Britain suffering from a bout of coercive paternalism. The nanny state bug has infected most of Europe. Of the 28 EU countries included in the index, all but six have a higher score than they did last year. There have been slivers of liberalisation, such as the legalisation of e-cigarettes in Denmark and Belgium. In Slovakia, cyclists are now permitted to drink a pint of beer before using a cycle lane. Finland has repealed its tax on ice cream.

Christopher Snowdon, Head of Lifestyle Economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs, said:

“There is no prize for being the EU’s most intolerant country. Too many politicians seem to think that treating their citizens like children is a matter of national pride.

“The Nanny State Index shows huge variations between the freest countries, such as Germany and the Czech Republic, and the most oppressive countries, such as Finland and the UK, but the situation is getting worse nearly everywhere. It does not have to be this way. Governments should learn from the successful societies at the foot of the league table and embrace liberty.”

Notes to Editors:

For UK based media enquiries please contact Stephanie Lis, IEA Director of Communications: [email protected] or 0207 799 8909 or 07766 221 268

For Brussels based media enquires please contact Adam Bartha, IEA Programmes Assistant: [email protected] or 07523 365 854

The Nanny State Index is the comprehensive evaluation of paternalistic lifestyle regulation in Europe. Using 32 criteria related to food, soft drinks, alcohol, tobacco and e-cigarettes, it identifies the best and worst countries to eat, drink, smoke and vape. It is a pan-European project co-ordinated by the European Policy Information Center (EPICENTER) and edited by Christopher Snowdon of the Institute of Economic Affairs.

Full details of the Index are available here.

The mission of the Institute of Economic Affairs is to improve understanding of the fundamental institutions of a free society by analysing and expounding the role of markets in solving economic and social problems.

The IEA is a registered educational charity and independent of all political parties.