Charities have reacted with concern to reports that the Government could be set to backtrack on plans for a crackdown on unhealthy food promotions.
Reports suggest the Government is considering delaying the planned ban on promotions such as buy-one-get-one-free (Bogof) offers and extra free deals on HFSS products, those high in fat, salt and sugar.
The new measures, part of the wider Obesity Strategy, are due to come into force in October, when they are likely to coincide with another huge rise in energy costs.
Commenting on the speculation, Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) chief executive James Lowman said: “Our members are telling us that customers are watching every penny, so now is not the time to put new legislation in place that makes feeding families more expensive.
“Scrapping the ban on ‘buy-one-get-one’ deals and other promotions would help retailers to deliver value for customers in stores.
“We are also urging the Government to rethink whether to continue with location restrictions.
“These measures are complex, unnecessary and expensive to implement, and retailers tell us that they cannot just absorb the cost as they are dealing with increased costs in every area of their businesses.”
However Barbara Crowther, of Sustain’s Children’s Food Campaign, said she was “deeply worried” at the suggestion of any delay.
She said: “There’s been a 57% increase in food insecurity in the last three months and we urgently need the Government to find practical solutions to support families during the cost-of-living crisis, such as expanding free school meals eligibility, for example.
“We are deeply worried that instead, the Government may be considering delays to measures to ban junk food multi-buys that have been described as ‘immoral’ in the past because they don’t save people money at all.
“Evidence shows they lead to spending more on, less healthy food, increasing risks of diet-related diseases and adding long-term cost and pressure for our NHS.
“The Department of Health recently reconfirmed the Government’s commitment to drive forward regulation on high fat, salt and sugar foods, whilst industry has been investing significant time and money in preparing for them, including switching to straightforward price discounts that are more honest and better value.
“We call on the Government not to backtrack or play politics with children’s health, but to stand by its own obesity strategy and focus on more effective measures to address the cost-of-living crisis.”
Michelle Mitchell, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, said: “We’re picking up on incredibly concerning remarks from Conservative MPs suggesting the UK Government might delay planned restrictions on volume-based price promotions of less healthy food and drink in England.
“This is one of the policies critical to reducing obesity, the second biggest preventable cause of cancer.
“At a time when people have less money in their pockets, Bogof or volume-based price promotions increase the amount people spend by 20%, because they buy more than they intended to and cause impulse buying of unhealthy foods.
“Delaying this evidence-based measure would be delaying progress in helping people maintain a healthy weight and risks exacerbating health inequalities.
“With a new 10-year cancer plan on the horizon, the Government must show bold leadership if people with cancer are to see the progress they deserve.”
The Department of Health said it had no comment on the reports.