Written evidence submitted by Dr Finola ONeill (GP at Black Torrington surgery Devon)


I am a doctor and environmental campaigner, member of SERA, secretary of SERA Devon and a member of health declares a climate emergency, a group  of healthcare workers working  on decarbonising the NHS. I am a member of several local community groups working on local environmental issues including 361energy, a local community energy group, Regen Braunton and the zero Carbon Croyde and Georgham group.


I have experience of the interface between health and community structures, health and the environment and work at decarbonising the economy.



Considering taxes regarding global companies, these can and do optimise their tax returns by accounting methods that minimises profits on their UK balance sheet[1], the aspect that they are taxed on re their business income. These businesses should be taxed on turnover also[2]. Companies won’t be able to move the customer market in the same way that they may move the location of profits. In this way the playing field would be levelled up between large international companies and smaller national companies, or internationals that freely pay their tax.



Regarding taxing online shopping differently to high street shops this is another area that the Pandemic has affected. People have converted to digital shopping, which has been accelerated due to the Pandemic. The science supports that the Pandemic is not going to be ending any time soon and to an extent will be present moving into the future[3]. In addition future Pandemics are more likely due to globalisation and environmental changes[4].


Digital shopping provides advantages for infection control risk and is likely to reduce carbon footprint, as a single vehicle makes coordinated trips to a numbers of homes, rather than all these homes making trips, usually by motor vehicle, to the shops. With the ongoing Pandemic risks the needs to continue online shopping will continue and most agree that the trend won’t turn back significantly.[5] However online shopping has lower costs, re premises, staff, etc and arguably for some large companies above ability to optimise their accounting. There is evidence that high streets promote community wellbeing[6] and have important value in addition to their economic value[7]. I would therefore suggest that high street shops are given tax breaks, on revenue, to support their ongoing viability, to supplement their survival through the Pandemic and beyond. No high streets mean minimal community structure, as anyone who has lived in areas of the US and Australia where these are sorely lacking can attest to. High street shops, particularly small independent ones, should be given assistance to develop a supplementary online service, so they can access this market and stores where the majority of their retail is in store (eg over 50% or over 25%) could have the tax breaks on revenue. Customers can then have the choice to view products in store when wanted, order on line or in store and this would assist lower footfall in stores while maintaining high street structures and community support. During the first peak our local hardware store in Braunton Devon, introduced an online service during lockdown, consisting of their facebook page, photos of handwritten lists of products, and the ability to message their facebook page with an order and to get a callback. The store started deliveries, significantly expanded their range and provided an essential community support to our large proportion of elderly residents, and the rest of us. In addition they kept their business going and adapted rapidly.


For larger high streets it should be easy to produce virtual online high streets with links from a map to the businesses on the high street which helps maintain the community feel. For those without digital access a leaflet with phone numbers of the stores could be made available. (This would give an additional service beyond the normal online shopping which some without internet can’t access anyway.) In this way high streets could be assisted to convert to the digital market and independent and smaller stores could be well supported.



Carbon tax:


Information regarding the carbon footprint of all purchases should be clearly labelled on the purchase including travel purchases, vehicles, fuel, products, food produce. They should also be taxed based on this carbon footprint. Both these measures will create clear feedback loops on behaviour and enable consumers to make informed choices as well as providing a negative reinforcement on higher carbon costs through taxation. Farming produce could be given general carbon footprint values unless their farm has been carbon assessed and can give the accurate footprint of its produce, taking into account the carbon capture many farms who farm most sympathetically to the environment, are able to provide.


Parts of the Planet are already becoming uninsurable according to global insurance giant QBE.[8][9]

UN forecasts estimate that there could be anywhere between 25 million and 1 billion environmental migrants by 2050, with 200 million being the most cited estimate.[10] Climate change will affect agriculture and food security.[11] Floods and heatwaves already cost us billions.[12] The costs of floods are predicted to rise rapidly if significant changes are not made. (“Presently, the annual average costs of flooding for the EU, based on 2006 data, are about 6.9 billion on average, with around 200,000 people affected each year. Based on the do nothingscenario, this is predicted to rise to an average of 16 to 34.1 billion per year for the 2020s, 24.5 to 95.3 billion by the 2050s, and between 58.6 and 200 billion by the next century.[13]”).


Unless it’s not yet immediately apparent, we need to strongly tackle our emissions now, rapidly and sizeably, and a carbon tax is a simple, direct way to address this. Studies show that price is one of the strongest factors affecting purchasing behaviour[14] and this has been borne out by the strong association between tax on cigarettes and alcohol and reduced consumption[15],[16].






Plastics tax:


Fisheries, aquaculture, recreational activities and global wellbeing are all negatively affected by plastic pollution, with an estimated 1-5% decline in the benefit humans derive from oceans. The resulting cost in such benefits, known as marine ecosystem value, is up to $2.5tn (£1.9tn) a year, according to a study published this week in Marine Pollution Bulletin.

Plastic waste is also believed to cost up to $33,000 per ton in reduced environmental value, the study found. An estimated 8m tons of plastic pollution enter the worlds oceans every year.[17]

Alternatives are freely available and we have started to convert to them. For example all coops plastic bags are biodegradable and many takeaway outlets use compostable packaging including cups now. A high plastics tax is needed to encourage full conversion where possible to this type of packaging or no packaging as possible. As explained above, financial penalties are the quickest and easiest ways to facilitate behaviour change.[18]




Diesel vehicle tax:


95% 0f particulates that cause sir pollution are from diesel vehicles.[19] Air pollution causes 40,000 deaths per year and costs the NHS 20 billion per year[20]. Road tax should be significantly higher on diesel vehicles, diesel fuel should be taxed highly and diesel vehicles should be rapidly phased out, apart from farm vehicles where alternatives are not available.




September 2020


[1] https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201314/ldselect/ldeconaf/48/48.pdf

[2] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/eu-turnover-revenue-tax-corporation-tax-avoidance-a7941116.html

[3] https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-02278-5

[4] https://www.unenvironment.org/news-and-stories/story/daily-covid-19-cases-reach-new-high-new-report-examines-how-prevent-future

[5] https://sourcingjournal.com/topics/lifestyle-monitor/coronavirus-online-shopping-ecommerce-omnichannel-bopis-euromonitor-facebook-214068/

[6] https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/699505/25.01.18_Healthy_High_Streets_Briefing_document_Final_version.pdf

[7] https://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/ggbd_high_streets_adaptive_strategies_web_compressed_0.pdf

[8] https://www.smh.com.au/business/banking-and-finance/qbe-warns-of-climate-risk-as-300m-hit-to-revenue-alongside-unusual-weather-20200217-p541e3.html

[9] http://www.acclimatise.uk.com/2019/01/03/world-may-become-uninsurable-with-climate-change-says-iag/

[10] https://www.climateforesight.eu/migrations-inequalities/environmental-migrants-up-to-1-billion-by-2050/

[11] http://www.fao.org/3/k2595e/k2595e00.pdf

[12] https://www.thelondoneconomic.com/opinion/the-economic-impact-of-climate-change/13/02/

[13] https://app.croneri.co.uk/feature-articles/economics-flooding?product=144

[14] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2306774815000034

[15] https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/08/180809093453.htm

[16] https://www.who.int/tobacco/economics/taxation/en/

[17] https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2019/apr/04/marine-plastic-pollution-costs-the-world-up-to-25bn-a-year-researchers-find#:~:text=The%20resulting%20cost%20in%20such,environmental%20value%2C%20the%20study%20found.

[18] n15, n16

[19] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4894930/

[20] https://www.nhs.uk/news/heart-and-lungs/air-pollution-kills-40000-a-year-in-the-uk-says-report/