Overweight or unhealthy people who refuse to attend exercise sessions could have their benefits slashed, in a move proposed by Westminster Council. GPs would also be allowed to prescribe leisure activities such as swimming and fitness classes under the idea.
The Tory-controlled council said the aim was to save £5bn from the NHS budget when local authorities take over public health provision from April. BMA member and GP Dr Lawrence Buckman called the idea “draconian and silly”.
The measures are contained in a report entitled A Dose of Localism: The Role of Council in Public Health, in a link-up between Westminster Council and the Local Government Information Unit (LGiU).
The idea of cutting someone’s benefits if they don’t swipe into a yoga, weights or Zumba class might seem absurd. But the authors of this report insist this is a serious attempt to develop new policies and positive incentives to meet a huge public health challenge.
From April councils assume responsibility for a multi-billion pound public health budget. They also take control of administering council tax benefit (the reduction in council tax for those unable to pay the full amount).
These two developments are a huge challenge, but also an opportunity. In theory people making healthier choices (and saving their council money) could be given some money off their council tax bill.
Councils certainly have the power to design new council tax schemes. But there will be howls of protest from those appalled by the idea of a town hall computer monitoring our “healthy” choices. Under the proposals, overweight benefit claimants could have their money docked if they refuse exercise regimes prescribed by doctors.
Smart cards would be brought in to monitor the use of leisure centres, meaning local authorities could reduce welfare payments for those who fail to follow their GP’s advice. Resident, housing and council tax benefit payments “could be varied to reward or incentivise residents”, the report said. It claims “early intervention techniques” could help save more lives and money.
( via bbc.co.uk )