Refuse to exercise and we could cut your benefits, fat claimants are toldThe initiative could see obese people prescribed activity sessions by GPsThey would be penalised if they failed to turn up or rewarded if they doWestminster City Council will publish a report on the scheme today

By
Rosie Taylor

PUBLISHED:

01:56 GMT, 3 January 2013

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UPDATED:

11:42 GMT, 3 January 2013

Obese benefits claimants who refuse to exercise could have their payments cut under plans being considered by a local council.

The initiative would see obese and overweight people being prescribed physical activity sessions by their GP at the council’s leisure facilities and then being penalised if they failed to turn up – or rewarded if they do.

Westminster City Council will publish a report on the scheme today in conjunction with the think-tank the Local Government Information Unit.

Bigger picture: Obese benefits claimants who refuse to exercise could have their payments cut under plans being considered by Westminster City Council

Bigger picture: Obese benefits claimants who refuse to exercise could have their payments cut under plans being considered by Westminster City Council

‘Where an exercise package is prescribed to a resident, housing and council tax benefit payments could be varied to reward or incentivise residents,’ the report said.

The Tory-run council said a combination of ‘carrot and stick’ techniques would be needed to encourage people to exercise.

A spokesman said: ‘We have the ability to vary benefits depending on behaviour so it is an option.’

Patients’ attendance at exercise sessions would be monitored using smart cards, said the report, A Dose of Localism: The Role of Councils in Public Health.

The move is being considered as local authorities prepare to take over responsibility for ‘community wellbeing and public health’ from primary care trusts as part of the NHS shake-up – and could pave the way for similar schemes across the country.

At the same time, councils could be given greater control over some benefits.

Other suggestions considered in the report include reducing red tape for non-alcohol based social venues, to create a 24-hour ‘caf culture’.

Opportunity: Philippa Roe, Leader of Westminster Council says that councils have a great opportunity to 'improve lives by thinking how public health can be integrated into existing local services'

Opportunity: Philippa Roe, Leader of Westminster Council says that councils have a great opportunity to 'improve lives by thinking how public health can be integrated into existing local services'

Philippa Roe, leader of Westminster City Council, said: ‘Councils have a great opportunity to improve lives by thinking how public health can be integrated into existing local services. This can lead to savings being shared across the entire public sector.

‘This report contains exactly the sort of bright, forward-thinking and radical ideas that need to be looked at.

'Local government needs to seriously start considering how it is going to manage public health before April arrives, it is only four months away.’

But critics said the scheme would not be easy to implement.

Professor John Wass, of the Royal College of Physicians, said: ‘For people to lose weight, they must want to lose weight, and I have concerns about forcing the public to exercise. If we want to solve a problem this big, we need to look at the bigger picture.’

Alex Thomson, chief executive of the think-tank Localis, praised the idea as ‘localism in practice’, but said it discriminated against those who exercised outside council facilities.

‘And even if you check in to the pool how will they know if you just sit and have a latte in the caf instead’ he added.

Around half of British adults are overweight, and 17 per cent of men and 21 per cent of women are obese.

Obesity is one of the biggest strains on the health budget and costs 5.1billion a year, according to Department of Health estimates.

Dr Jonathan Carr-West, of the Local Government Information Unit, which co-wrote the report, said: ‘Helping people and communities stay healthy is a double win for local government. We can save money while helping citizens have better lives.

'The ideas in this paper are intended to stimulate and provoke. They won’t all be right for everyone but we hope they can lead a debate.’