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People exercising and eating healthily should jump hospital queues

Think-tank says people with healthy lifestyles should be rewarded

Mark Gould

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

People who make healthier life choices should be prioritised for non-emergency hospital appointments, according to a left of centre think-tank.

Control Shift, a new report by Demos, says the government should use “nudge-plus” policies to encourage responsible behaviour and address the shift towards greater reliance on the state, by promoting instead a public services culture of “getting back what you put in”.

It suggests NHS users who could prove their responsible lifestyles – by sharing receipts showing that they buy healthy food in the supermarket or go to the gym – would be rewarded for lowering their own risk of requiring medical treatment. For example, the Government could top-up benefit recipients’ Universal Credit if they attend the gym regularly.

The Government could also engage the private sector and work with online retailers, such as supermarkets, to give shoppers a “health tally” of their weekly shop, nudge customers into choosing fresh fruit and vegetables, and remind people of the health risks of purchasing larger than recommended quantities of alcohol and saturated fats.

Control Shift makes a number of suggestions that could help local authorities save money while improving service delivery and rewarding local residents for increasing their involvement in pro-active schemes in their area.

Demos argues that the Government should run a “community cashback” scheme to reward local authorities that can demonstrate a financial saving by allowing them to retain a percentage of the extra money for use within the community.

Other ideas put forward in the report include:

  • Allowing local groups who can demonstrate high levels of community support to bid to run local services like Sure Start, employment services, and local parks.
  • Improve access to local data to both highlight the impact of successful community-led projects and also nudge neighbouring communities towards more responsible action.
  • Introducing “micro mayors” - elected yearly and representing 1,000 to 5,000 people to work on specific, neighbourhood-level issues such as litter or anti-social behaviour to give communities a clear sense of leadership in their area.

Author Max Wind-Cowie, said: “These proposals are about more than just saving money. They are about helping people make informed decisions and take greater personal and collective responsibility – an attitude that has become even more salient now that there is less in the coffers.

“Government and the private sector should adopt an enabling and pro-active approach to supporting individuals, families and communities into doing the right thing and taking more responsibility – it is no longer enough to simply step back and assume people will fill the gap.

“Polling has consistently shown this view strikes a chord with the general public, and these nudge-plus proposals offer some practical idea of how we could see it in action.”

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