Cut benefits for obese who refuse to exercise, most Labs participants say

January 16, 2013, 3:40 PM GMT+0

Last week on PoliticsLab, we told you about a move proposed by the Westminster Council, which may cut the benefits of overweight or unhealthy people who refuse to exercise.

Under the proposals, overweight benefit claimants could be prescribed exercise regimes such as swimming and fitness classes by their doctors.

The claimants could have their benefits cut if they refuse to exercise the prescribed regimes.

Smart cards would be used to monitor their activity in leisure centres, allowing local authorities to reduce welfare payments for those who do not follow their GP’s advice.

British Medical Association member and GP Dr Lawrence Buckman told the BBC the idea is "draconian and silly".

However, Jonathan Carr-West, acting chief executive of the Local Government Information Unit, believed the proposals were "a win-win" solution.

He said the move was 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 invited Labs participants to share their thoughts on such proposals. The following questions were asked:

  • Is cutting the benefits of overweight or unhealthy who refuse to exercise a good or bad idea?

We found that…

  • Most Labs participants thought cutting benefits of those who refuse to exercise the prescribed regimes is a good idea.

  • A smaller number of participants believed cutting benefits for those who refuse to exercise is a bad idea.

Participants who believed cutting benefits for overweight and unhealthy who refuse to exercise is a good idea

  • Those who were for the move said it would benefit the NHS.
  • Others claimed it would make people take responsibility for their actions, and act as an incentive to encourage maintaining a healthier lifestyle.
  • Others said it is necessary to cut the benefits of those who refuse to exercise, as it is not the taxpayers’ problem.
  • Some Labs participants believed it would change how people feel about themselves and potentially increase their confidence, which may result in getting a job so benefits would no longer be needed.
  • Cutting their benefits if refused to exercise would be educating them about what ‘they should be doing if they want to lead a full and productive life’.

Participants who said cutting benefits for overweight and unhealthy who refuse to exercise is a bad idea

  • Labs participants in this group said that each person’s weight and health may depend on a variety of factors such as low self-esteem or depression, and that forcing them to exercise will not make the situation any better.

Click on the headings below to see Labs participants’ comments.

Participants who said cutting benefits for overweight and unhealthy who refuse to exercise is a good idea

“It would force them to change their lifestyle, how they eat, their exercise routine etc. The workforce would strengthen as a result of fewer people on benefits. It would cut back the national debt Matt, Hull

“Because it’s not hard working tax payers’ problem that obese people are too lazy to diet or exercise. Why should we pay for it?” Anon

“It would be a wake-up call to them. This is an illness and we should strive to help these people.” ian eh21

“If they had fewer benefits, they would have less to waste on unhealthy food. And no, the state would not be telling people how to eat; it would merely not be paying them to eat unhealthily!” ChrisB , Milton Keynes

“It would incentivise unhealthy people to a better quality of life, and help overweight people to become healthier. If the taxpayer is paying their claim I feel that they should be able to set conditions.” Anon

Obesity causes many health and social problems. By encouraging exercise, obesity can be cut stopping problems.” Ben G, Telford

Participants who said cutting benefits for overweight and unhealthy who refuse to exercise is a bad idea

“Obesity and unhealthy lifestyles are often a result of an individual’s personal circumstances and issues which may include low self-esteem, depression, lack of access and affordability to facilities and lack of health education. More should be done to tackle this rather than making people poorer. Cutting benefits may only serve to encourage the eating of cheap unhealthy foodstuffs and increase the problem.” Anon

It won't help people lose weight, it'll just force them to go to a gym to sit doing flip-all instead of looking for work. Just like the government's last big idea on unemployment made it less likely for people to find work while they were on it. This is just an excuse for moralising and bossing people around. It'll probably lead to more cases of depression and suicide due to body shaming too.” Dee D, Yorkshire

“It's a cruel and insensitive approach to helping people who are obese to lose weight. A reward system might be more effective - increase in benefit if people lost weight maybe, or a treat? Also, remember that some people are obese for reasons other than laziness, such as an illness that prevents movement.Anon

Policing and punishment are never a good idea. People need to be encouraged and empowered to lose weight. People gain weight for a variety of reasons, mostly psychological. They eat as self-punishment, and others punishing them would only indulge them further in the belief that they are not worthy of a normal life. A definite no-no!” Heidi DW, Lincoln

What are your thoughts on the subject? Add your voice to the debate