Lifestyle Economics

Will 2019 be the year we halt the march of the Nanny State? I won’t hold my breath

The morning I turned eight, I woke up and told my father that I was “halfway there”.

This, in my home state of Connecticut, was in reference to getting my driving licence, a process I could start on my sixteenth birthday.

As a kid, this was the milestone that I was most excited to reach, but there were plenty of others – getting my ears pierced, babysitting my brother, going to the movies with my friends on our own – that I still remember to this day.

These moments are a critical part of growing up – hitting certain ages when you take on a new responsibilities that turn you into slightly more of an adult and slightly less of a child.

You think that you’re taking steps towards autonomy and independence, slowly moving away from the protections and controls that were naturally (and rightly) in place during your childhood. Think again.

This government seems increasingly intent on moving us from one infantile stage to another, with Public Health England and HMRC replacing the roles of mum and dad.

Long gone are the days when it was assumed that consenting adults could make their own decisions about lifestyles or spending habits.

Our leaders seem adamant that we’re not capable of making such choices for ourselves, and are bringing in a slew of policies to render our decision-making powers moot.

Just over the past few weeks, the “nanny state” has lived up to its name in full. Day after day we’ve heard of new proposals for restrictions on our lifestyle habits.

From calorie caps for restaurant and ready meals (“the biggest interference in the food supply by any country in peacetime” according to the IEA’s Christopher Snowdon) to the “pudding tax” (an extension of the tax on sugary drinks targeting customers who dare to buy dessert), there is an increasing effort to stop us from enjoying a range of food – not just in excess, but altogether.

And it doesn’t stop there. Recent policy moves that may seem mundane or bureaucratic are worryingly intruding into basic decisions about one’s livelihood.

The Times unearthed this week that HMRC is threatening Iceland Food with a £21m fine for offering staff at the lower end of the pay spectrum a scheme to help them save money for the Christmas holidays.

HMRC is claiming that the supermarket chain violated minimum wage laws, despite the scheme being voluntary, with employees able to ask for a return of the cash “on demand”.

HMRC promotes its own quasi-compulsory pensions scheme, yet it is targeting a company helping its staff to make fiscally responsible decisions about their futures.

The assumption here is that workers are not able to make the most basic decisions about their own money and how they save or spend it. It is remarkable how little trust politicians seem to have in the people who elect them.

Targeting adult activities is often done in the name of protecting children. But when you break it down, these policies are not designed to protect kids from experiencing adult behaviour too soon; they are designed to treat adults like children, violating very basic rights we associate with coming of age.

Will 2019 be the year this goes too far? That will probably be up to us, grown-ups that we are, deciding that enough is enough.

Kate is Associate Director of the IEA. Kate oversees the IEA’s Media Centre and digital platforms, creating and commissioning content for the website, social media, and ieaTV. Kate regularly features across the national media, including appearances on BBC News, Sky News, Channel 4, Channel 5, ITV and BBC’s Question Time.

2 thoughts on “Will 2019 be the year we halt the march of the Nanny State? I won’t hold my breath”

  1. Posted 07/01/2019 at 18:42 | Permalink

    Interesting, so are we saying that we don’t want to pay for the bbc but we are quite happy to continue to pay for the ever increasing cost of self indulgent and irresponsible obesity?

    On the subject of freedom of choice, while acknowledging we have it, do you think there is or should be a counterweight to the projected £20 billion that will be spent on advertising in the UK this year?

  2. Posted 11/01/2019 at 15:57 | Permalink

    @ Neil Arbrey – it’s very well established that obese individuals have lower lifetime healthcare costs, so your point is completely moot.

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