Obese who refuse to exercise 'could face benefits cut'


Under the proposals, overweight benefit claimants could have their money docked if they refuse exercise regimes

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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.

These include linking welfare payments to healthy lifestyles and rewarding those who take responsibility for their own health, the report's authors claim.

Red tape would be cut for "non-alcoholic venues" to encourage a more responsible approach to drinking, which the report says was promised but never delivered by the change to 24-hour licensing laws.

'Emotional issues'

British Medical Association GP committee chairman Dr Buckman, a GP in north London, called the proposals "some of the silliest things I've heard in a long time".

Start Quote

A fast-food generation need support in the long term”

End Quote Susannah Gilbert Spokeswoman, Big Matters

"When I was first told about this I thought it was a joke," he said.

He added: "The best way [councils] can intervene is to stop restaurants and fast-food chains providing the kind of food that make people put on weight, and interfere with the way foods are sold in shops."

Obesity support organisation Big Matters spokeswoman Susannah Gilbert said: "It would be fairer to use the money to support people rather than to penalise people.

"Any plans for health should be holistic," she added. "Some people have emotional issues to do with food.

"A fast-food generation need support in the long term."

But Jonathan Carr-West, acting chief executive of the LGiU, said the proposals offered "a win-win" solution.

He said the proposals were about "finding innovative ways to both improve people's lives so they don't suffer from these conditions, while also saving money for the public purse".

"We have to look at ways of managing demand, of helping people not to need such expensive health interventions," he said.

He said the proposals would "help people lead healthier, happier lives".

Westminster council leader Philippa Roe said: "This report contains exactly the sort of bright, forward-thinking and radical ideas that need to be looked at.

"The potential improvements to the nation's health and to the public purse could be significant."

But the change to local authority control over public health has led many councils to voice concerns about how much money they will get and the formula that central government will use to allocate funding.

The public health funding announcement was originally expected on 19 December.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 323.

    i cant believe how sympathetic people are being. I am 100% behind this, the amount this costs the economy each year is outrageous, this should also be applied to smokers and drinkers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 316.

    No one forces the wrong food down your throat - there are plenty of healthy options - which are often cheaper.

    I have no problem with people ramming food in their mouths and being obese - I do have a problem with my Tax money being used for the NHS to treat them!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 204.

    The reason the giovernment are targetting Benefits claimants is that they are recieving money from tax-payers to get fat. My wages are going down, and my taxes are going up so I for one, don't want my hard earned money being spent on other peoples junk food. We need more accountability on how benefits are being spent and we should applaud the governemnts decision on this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    There are a range of dangerous pursuits that put pressure on the NHS, being overweight is just another one of them. Threatening to strip benefits from people unless they change their lifestyle is nothing short of fascism and should be resisted as such

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    Many people who are obese and on benefits have ended up that way as a result of other underlying health problems or minor disabilities. I'm not sure how these proposals would affect such people but it sounds to me like they are in danger of making some long term sick or disabled people worse off. Especially people with conditions whereby they are intermittently worse some days than others.


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