UK Chancellor George Osborne courted controversy again today, claiming during an interview with the BBC that the UK’s escalating obesity crisis was the responsibility of the ‘I break me, you fix me culture’ of the tax payer funded National Health Service.
The Chancellor’s remarks follow the release of a report suggesting half of the UK could be obese by 2030 if current trends continue without intervention. Speaking to the BBC, Mr Osborne said:
“In this period of austerity, we must make tough decisions about how best to make use of our limited resources. The time has come for us to ask the difficult questions. One such question is: is it right and proper for tax payer money to fund the helping of people who do not help themselves?”
The Chancellor was asked if the government had plans to remove provision of health services from UK citizens who were considered obese. “We are not going to act in haste.” He responded “Both myself and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt are in consultation with health professionals and health service providers to review our options. It seems to me that the state must be able to turn off the tap. Every year the NHS spends £4.2bn treating illnesses caused by obesity. This is a burden the public purse can no longer afford.”
The comments of the Chancellor have prompted vigorous debate across the mainstream and social media with commentators from both sides of the argument keen to share their views on the subject. Mike Untree, General Secretary the UK’s largest Healthcare union Unison gave an impassioned response, stating “This is yet another case of the Coalition government shooting it’s wounded. There isn’t a sane minded person in the land who cannot now see that this Chancellor’s cruelty knows no bounds. The NHS is there for all, free at the point of use. That is the way it will stay.”
Further criticism was put forward by the Campaign for Public Health, whose spokesperson Ruth Berry used an interview with the BBC’s Radio 5 Live to outline her organisation’s opposition to the Chancellor’s suggestions. “This kind of conversation has no place in the wider discussion of how to improve the nation’s public health.” She claimed “We should promote wellbeing through regular physical exercise. We should educate young people so they grow into adults with a healthy diet and a strong understanding of nutrition. These are the best things we can do. The rise of junk food and sugary drinks in school vending machines, the ubiquitous junk food franchises in our towns and cities and food pricing which rewards eating poorly are the issues we should be tackling today.”
The Chancellor’s views did receive support from sections of the business and economic communities. Professor Robin Gett, chief analyst for free market think-tank Rand Reform supported Mr Osborne’s willingness to tackle ‘a crisis of public health and public finances’ in an ‘innovative way’. In an article for the Telegraph, Professor Gett suggested likely strategies the Government would use to enforce such a policy in future.
“This move would form part of a welcome reform of the welfare system which puts and end to the UKs something for nothing culture. People would be asked to submit to annual health checks. Those who are classed as serial offenders that fail to manage their own obesity could be enrolled in personal health insurance ensuring the state is no longer responsible for the increasing cost of a person’s lifestyle choice.”
The radical idea could be rolled out in the early years of a Conservative government following the 2015 general election, with conservative MPs suggesting privately that the plan may capture more than obesity. Smoking, alcohol and drug related conditions could also require personal insurance based treatment. Services for such treatments would cease to be provided by the NHS in order to prioritise spending on non-preventable conditions of illness and injury.
Author’s Note: This article is satirical, but could so easily be true. A government that is willing to blame the welfare state for a case of manslaughter, is likely willing to stoop to any low. This latest attempt forms part of a wider effort to taint the services which save lives in order that we become cold to the needs of our fellow citizens. Great thinkers from Aristotle to Gandhi have reminded us that ‘the measure of a civilisation is how it treats its weakest members’. It is a measure of our civilisation that our physically and mentally ill, disabled, young, old, unemployed and working poor receive the support which allows them to live in dignity. This government continues to stigmatise the services which perform this crucial function, and those who rely upon them in order that they divert more public funds into corporate welfare. As Rob Newman stated in his new show The Theory of Evolution: “Can we afford a welfare state? Yes. Can we afford two? No. It’s for us to decide if we will spend our taxes on human welfare or corporate welfare.”