ukactive Executive Director Steven Ward said:
The government’s commitment to making our workforce more productive must be driven by an investment in people.
We know that an active workforce is a more productive workforce so it’s vital that we make it easier for our staff to exercise more.
There is no doubt that Britain’s physical inactivity epidemic is hitting our bottom line. PwC estimates that workplace absenteeism costs the UK around £29bn per year, and much of this is preventable. The majority of Britain’s 131 million annual sick days are due to back, neck and muscle pain – conditions that can be largely avoided through regular movement and strength exercises.
It is welcome that the government has today reiterated its commitment to the Cycle to Work by ring-fencing the scheme.
Since its launch in 1999, over 646,000 people have taken advantage of the scheme, which according to the Department of Transport, has brought major health benefits and greatly helped environment as well.
We look forward to continuing our discussions with the Treasury on how we can maximise the impact of Cycle to Work by expanding this salary sacrifice scheme to include gym memberships and fitness equipment. This would broaden its appeal, thus enabling more workers to be active and more productive.
Because of its health benefits, Cycle to work has been exempted from the government’s tightening of regulations around Benefits in Kind such as health checks, car allowances and mobile phone contracts.
Despite not being mentioned in the Autumn Statement or its supporting documentation, we believe this could include taxation on corporate gym memberships. Although this would only affect a small proportion of the workforce, we cannot condone any policy that makes it harder for people to improve their health by being more active.
Going forward, we will continue to work with all areas of government to ensure that all aspects of policy point towards a more active Britain.
Furthermore, a more productive Britain will require greater levels of physical activity in and out of work, so we welcome the Chancellor’s pledge to invest £23bn on innovation and infrastructure over the next five years.
As our Chair Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson outlined two weeks ago, this Industrial Strategy should support a £1bn regeneration scheme to transform the UK’s ageing fleet of leisure centres into new community wellness hubs.
These wellness hubs combine swimming pools, gyms and sports halls, with GP drop-in centres, libraries and police services, to create a one-stop-shop for public services.
They have been pioneered by Sport England in towns such as Warrington, with innovative cross-sector funding models which can leverage a 10:1 ratio of private sector funding for public investment.
This means that just £100m of government funding can stimulate a £1bn overhaul of our leisure stock, leading to major efficiency savings and a significant upswing in activity levels.
Official estimates suggest this transformation would save £500m a year in operating costs alone.
This would improve health, create jobs and wealth, while providing a greener environment for our children to become active in.
This level of investment is a drop in the ocean compared to the economic and social cost to the country of a full-blown inactivity epidemic.
It is a fraction of the cost of the £55bn HS2 project or the £17bn Third Runway, and yet it could save thousands of lives.
The Government’s Industrial Strategy must recognise that our public health infrastructure is just as important as our plane or train networks.
Putting physical activity and well-being at the heart of community infrastructure is the only long-term solution to boost productivity and save the NHS from bankruptcy.