Healthy towns poorly thought-through

Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England, has suggested that a ‘Healthy New Towns’ programme could seek to alter individuals’ behaviour with bungs and favours for good behaviour. The trial programme will involve 76,000 homes in ten new towns across the country and future developers could also be asked to build new homes under the schemes, including exercise features, such as free bikes to ‘cut car use and promote cycling’.  

Mr Stevens’ proposals were previously trailed in March last year, and NHS England subsequently put its design out to tender.  Ideas to bribe new residents to stay fit now under discussion include; discounted supermarket shopping as a reward for achieving a weekly step count, tickets to outdoor cinemas and public squares to encourage communities to socialise on foot, and cooking lessons for residents. Apps would monitor weekly (in)activity.

Only last week, Public Health England (operating independently from this healthy-living bribe drive) expressed a desire to compel private companies to change the size and calorie count of their products. Philip Hammond committed to ploughing ahead with the sugar tax, despite evidence this will punish the poor and be circumvented by drinks makers. A famous nanny, Mary Poppins, recommended a spoonful of sugar, but the nanny state wants to reduce the size of the spoon.

The NHS arranging public health by central diktat consistently underestimates the financial implications to the taxpayer and is often deeply patronising to those who use the NHS simply to get better after an illness. Most people have no desire to be lectured by a cabal of taxmen, politicians and clinicians who insist that they know best. Ocado vouchers and gym memberships sound lovely, but these luxuries should not be footed by taxpayers, many of whom are unable to afford for themselves.

Britain would be £22.8 billion worse off if it were not for smokers, drinkers and the obese buttering up HMRC: the cost of treating obesity is more than offset by the revenue generated from lifestyle taxes. Living healthier lives may have its benefits, but financial support to the Exchequer is not one of them.

If Simon Stevens is so publicly spirited and interested in new house building, why not encourage fellow quangocrats and ministers to loosen building restrictions, helping people buy houses, rather than taking money from the hard-pressed to give away as bribes?

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