Midway through reading an article on the BBC news website this afternoon, I have to admit, I laughed so hard that I snorted. It was the article about obese people who refuse to exercise having to face the possibility of a cut in their benefits. This proposal bought to you byWestminster Council means that overweight or unhealthy people who refuse to attend exercise sessions could have their benefits slashed. The aim of this proposal is apparently to save £5 billion from the NHS budget when the local authority takes over the public health provision this coming April.
Westminster Council plan to introduce smart cards (like the TfL Oyster Card), to monitor the use of their leisure centres (presumably only the council run leisure centres in the borough ofWestminster). The plan is to allow GPs to prescribe an exercise regime to a patient who is overweight and/or unhealthy in their lifestyle choices and then the patient will use the smart card to access the gym.
Firstly, good one Westminster Council, good one. It is so clearly an idea that hasn’t been thoroughly thought out at all, therefore it will never work when you try to implement it.
Yes you can introduce a smart card, and ask GPs to prescribe an exercise regime, but how exactly is it going to work AND save that £5billion?
Also, who’s going to pay for the initial outlay cost to implement this (frankly stupid) plan?
So you create a card (for each person in each household that is on benefits). I assume that this proposal also includes children who are obese, and if said child does not comply then parents will have their child benefit slashed also? This card will need to have the person’s photo on it (to prevent fraud of course). Not only does the card have to be electronic, it also has to be durable and water proof (gyms are sweaty places, not to mention how wet it gets in the swimming pool!) Then you have to write a covering letter, give a “how to use” leaflet, put it in an envelope and post it out. What happens if you lose your card, or your handbag is stolen?
How will it work at the leisure centre? How will you be able to prove that the person actually exercised? Will they simply swipe in when they get there, or will they have to swipe in and out on each machine they use? Surely it’ll be the latter, as you’ll want proof that said person actually did follow his or her prescription! So then you’ll need to fit every single piece of equipment in the gym with a smart card reader. Also? What about swimming? At the end of each length will people need to swipe their smart card on the side of the pool? How on earth can you be sure that this scheme is going to work? Have you actually thought about any of this?
Then you have to consider, who’s going to pay for the gym? Have you seen the gym prices? Heck, my gym charges £50 a month for a membership, I work full time and I still can’t afford that. How is someone on benefits going to afford these prices (even concession costs) especially if you then cut their benefits.
So there’s a lot more cost involved here. Putting a swipe card system on each machine and then possibly paying for people to go to the gym, not to mention the cost of making the cards, sending them out, sorting replacements, hiring people to manage that new council department.
However this is a NHS prescription, so does it mean that each exercise regime will only cost approximately £8 for a gym membership? If so, will this apply to obese/unhealthy people who are not claiming benefits? Otherwise, it’s really not fair, is it?
How will it work with people who have mobility issues or those who have disabilities?
What happens if someone is in hospital for 2 weeks, will they be penalised for not meeting their regime prescribed?
What about smokers, or alcoholics, or drug users?
Basically Westminster Council, what you’re saying is, as long as people take their GPs advice and exercise then they can keep their benefits. It’s probably a good thing gyms have a policy of “no eating” whilst on the exercise machines; otherwise you could end up with people walking on a treadmill whilst eating a double cheeseburger from McDonalds. Careful you don’t slip on that gherkin now!
Whilst I applaud Westminster Council for looking at ways to reduce obesity and promote a healthy lifestyle, this isn’t the way to do it. Start tackling fast-food restaurants, encourage people to eat healthier food. Reduce the cost of gym memberships. Increase the cost of fast-food. At the end of the day, people need to want to lose weight; they need to want to be healthier. This plan I suspect is either going to fall flat once it hits the starting post or it will be scrapped (thus wasting the money spent coming up with it).
Either way, I don’t see how any money is going to be saved here. It’s just taking money from one pot and putting it into another.