Loose Weight or Loose Benefits Say Westminster Council

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On the front page of the Financial Times, it is said that conservatives in Westminster Council has decided to put forward a proposal to the government which would allow local governments to check to ensure people who are on benefits who have been advised by their GP to exercise in the gym are actually going to the gym. If people are not going to te gym then their benefits would be cut.

The reasoning behind the move by Westminster Council is two fold. First is the NHS is spending billions of pounds each year on over weight patients which could possibly be avoided if the patient changed their life style. Second, the Royal College of Physicians recently released the statistic that by 2050, 50% of the British population will be obese. In line with this logic, the cost on the NHS will increase and docking will be an attempt to claw back some of the spending.

When I heard this, I was outraged and could not believe what was being proposed. That is not to say the reasoning behind the proposal is wrong, but the ‘solution’ is. I agree to an extent something needs to be done to reduce the obese population but to reduce the income of people who are already living on £75 a week is just ridiculous. My argument is four fold.

Firstly, people who are obese, they are not usually in that position because of choice. A lot of medication slows the metabolism or makes people even more hungry or lethargic which means they cannot exercise as much as they used to. Even if someone has a food addiction and is constantly over eating and over weight, usually there is an underlying mental issue which needs to be dealt with and cutting their benefits will not stop them over eating will make them more depressed and less likely to go to a gym. A psychotherapist is needed, not a gym. For example, if someone looses a leg or diabetic and is fairly fit at the beginning, it is likely they will put on weight during the recovery process and weight is so much easier to put on than to loose. To cut their benefits because of this is totally wrong, it is not their choice and they need help, not to be targeted.

Secondly, leading on from that point and the strongest argument perhaps, is that people who are on benefits are already in a vulnerable position. Under this legislation if you are obese and have been told by the doctor to exercise and deliberately don’t, you loose your benefits. If however, you have an income and do not need benefits, either from inheritance, early retirement, ability to work from home, you are obese and use all the facilities of NHS, there is no consequence. Under the same logic, surely people who can pay should be asked to contribute even more towards their NHS bills for weight issues, if, on benefits, they would have lost them. It seems like a form of social engineering where the British government seems determined to increase the class divide which labour arguably attempted to close. It is unjustified that two people who are using public services when they probably shouldn’t, should be treated differently because of the amount of money in their bank accounts. Since it is a public service, either both parties loose money, or no one does. There cannot be a rule for one and another rule for the other.

Thirdly, the idea of implementing the proposal in order to reduce costs is rather dubious. In order to assess whether someone should have their benefits cut, first their needs to be a review. This involves writing to GPs, finding out all the information for everyone on benefits, and what thy have been advised by their GP. Then each person who has been told to exercise needs to be assessed to ensure people who absolutely cannot loose weight are not affected. Next people giving the final amount of benefits to the person needs to be notified and change the amount on the system. With every assessment, there will be some appeals, which means going through further arduous, unnecessary procedures. The point is, this all costs money and time and by the time a few pounds has been cut, the cost has been eaten up by admin. Moreover, unless the government pays for gym membership for overweight people, the cost of gym memberships can be quite pricey which is why people on benefits probably do not go in the first place and by taking more money away from them will only discourage people. The argument cutting benefits will save money maybe true but it may be hardly worth the hassle to cut benefits if one is over weight.

Fourthly, it may be argued that although they may not be saving much, it might encourage people to go to the gym and loose weight. Is there not however, the real possibility that people may go overboard and over exercise, gain eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia? Furthermore, if someone has dog and walks them everyday, they are exercising and attempting to keep fit without gym fees, but there is no record of it and cannot be improved and can be abused by the powers that be to take money away from people who need it.

Something does need to be done about rising obesity in the world, especially when most of it is starving, however, this legislation has gone far too much in the wrong direction. A more effective measure could be to charge everyone a percentage of their NHS bill if it is for weight issues that a GP has advised to loose or go to the gym, however, this could lead to other aspects like drug abuse or alcoholism also being charged for. I haven’t even begun to mention human error, machines not working, failings on the GP part, stats errors and people who can afford it can go private errors. There are so may different reasons as to why people who may need to loose weight but can’t. Although something needs to be done to reduce the obese population, there needs to be a more fair procedure which takes into account people’s illnesses, their mental state, cost and reality of people’s life.

What do you think about this proposal by Westminster Council? Are they right or does something different need to be done and what is it?

Over and Out!
Nathalie Lot

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