Obese Londoners Could Lose Welfare Benefits if They Don’t Exercise

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REUTERS/Toby Melville/Files

Some overweight Brits could find their welfare benefits cut if they don’t complete a physician-prescribed exercise regimen, according to a new series of public policy proposals being considered in the London area of Westminster.

The idea is part of a series of recommendations in a joint report issued by the Westminster Council and a British think tank, the Local Government Information Unit (LGiU). The proposals are intended to be part of a massive cost-savings plan for when local council governments control of more than $3.25 billion in public money that formerly went to Britain’s national health service for public health campaigns.

(MORE:  Being Overweight Is Linked to Lower Risk of Mortality)

Jonathan Carr-West, the acting chief executive of the LGiU, told the BBC that the proposal is a “win-win” solution, saving the council money as well as “finding innovative ways” to improve people’s lives. Westminster Council leader Philippa Roe described the report as containing “exactly the sort of bright, forward-thinking and radical ideas that need to be looked at.”

According to the report, entitled “A Dose of Localism” and illustrated with a tantalizing green apple on the cover, councils should link welfare measures to “behaviors that promote public health.”

(MORE: U.S. Obesity Rates Remain Stubbornly High

The group suggests using smart cards to monitor how much exercise an individual who’s been told to work out more is getting, and varying their subsidized housing and tax payments to either reward or “incentivize” them based on how much exercise they do.

Obesity in the U.K. is a growing problem. More than  22% of adult Britons are obese, the highest rate in Europe. Coupled with the growing pressure on its health services—on which nearly $179 billion in public money is spent annually—politicians and policy-makers have been looking for ever more creative ways of improving the country’s health without breaking the bank.

(MORE: Overcoming Obesity)

However not everyone agrees the new proposals are “forward-thinking.” The chairman of the British Medical Association’s General Practitioners committee, Dr.Lawrence Buckman, called the suggestions “some of the silliest things I’ve heard in a long time,” adding that when he was first informed of the plans, he “thought it was a joke.”

Other commentators have pointed out flaws in the proposal—in particular the idea that the jobless and the overweight should be the easy target for councils looking to save money. As Charlotte Cooper wrote in the Guardian, “If body weight was a choice solely mediated by eating less and exercising more, we would all have lost weight ages ago.”

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