Memo To Public Health England – Fast Food Is A Competitive, Low Margin, Business

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We’ve all long known that Public Health England is one of those groupuscules that needs a good sharp smack. Some old school Nanny perhaps to give them a clip around the ear and insist that they stop being stupid. Quite how such an assortment of ignorants and prodnoses ever managed to gain access to our wallets through the public purse is just one of those mysteries. The lesson presumably being to have rather less government given the example of PHE as they bathe in our taxes.

Take this as an example:

Almost half of the fast-food outlets in England are in the most deprived parts of the country, figures show, raising fresh concerns about child obesity in poorer areas.

The most affluent 10% of England is home to just 3% of fast-food restaurants, chip shops and burger bars, and the poorest decile has 17%, according to the data from Public Health England (PHE).

Of the 51,460 fast-food outlets in England, 24,072 (47%) are in the poorest 30% of the country.

Well, yes, OK. I have worked in central London myself and I’ve got to tell you that Lord North Street – where Jacob Rees Mogg just dropped £5 million on a house apparently – is remarkably free of burger joints. On the grounds that the grounds for a house cost £5 million presumably. Mayfair and St James’ are equally free of chicken shacks. Piccadilly might support many more as a result of the vast footfall. But there’s an important piece of information here:

Around a quarter of the 207,617 eateries in England are fast-food outlets, the majority of which are run by independent companies that own one or two outlets.

Flogging food is a low margin business. Most of the fast food outlets are small businesses. Where do we expect small, low margin businesses to be? Where rent’s cheap, that’s where? Where is rent cheap? In the poor areas of town, in what we might even call areas of deprivation.

Sure, we could start insisting that the British poor are so deprived as to not have access to kitchens but that’s something we really did solve 50 to 80 years back. We might even start shouting about the decline of domestic science classes and they don’t know how to use the ones they’ve got but good luck with that insistence. Poverty and stupidity aren’t the same thing at all.

It’s also true that as people interested in economics we’re always going to find an economic explanation no matter what the truth. But places which need cheap rents are in places with cheap rents? Cry me a river, eh? And our economic explanation does seem rather better than the Public Health one, doesn’t it?