Obese and other unhealthy people could be monitored to check whether they are taking exercise and have their benefits cut if they fail to do so under proposals published on Thursday by a Conservative-run council and a local government thinktank.
Westminster council and the Local Government Information Unit say new technologies such as smart cards could be used to track claimants’ use of leisure centres, allowing local authorities to dock housing and council benefit payments from those who refuse to carry out exercise prescribed by their GP.
The report, A Dose of Localism: the Role of Councils in Public Health, precedes the transfer in April of responsibility for community wellbeing and public health from the NHS to local authorities.
The proposals address how councils can meet the financial challenges posed by their new public health function amid rising levels of obesity and major budget cuts. The report suggests linking benefit payments to claimants’ lifestyles, and notes that some councils have introduced schemes allowing GPs to prescribe exercise at swimming pools, yoga, gyms and walking clubs.
“Where an exercise package is prescribed to a resident, housing and council tax benefit payments could be varied to reward or incentivise residents,” the authors state.
A Westminster council spokesman said the proposal would have to involve a “carrot and stick” approach.
Obesity increases the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart and liver disease and some cancers, making it a major financial burden on the NHS – £5.1bn per year, according to the Department of Health.
In England, 24% of men and 26% of women are obese,while 65% of men and 58% of women are either overweight or obese, according to the latest edition of the Health Survey for England.
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk
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