Those of you who have studied closely the language of the new coalition government will have spotted numerous references to the need for individuals to take more ‘personal responsibility’ for their own health and welfare. In fact, ministers have been openly vocal about the need for people to take charge of changing their own behaviour. And none of us can have escaped the focus that is being put on initiatives to take billions of pounds out of the welfare state budget.
The Government clearly can’t afford the welfare state bill which continues to burn a hole in the state pocket. And costs will inevitably increase not least due to the burgeoning and ageing population in the UK, but also because of the deteriorating health of the British population.
Experts have condemned government health campaigns as ‘failing’ to persuade individuals to live healthier lifestyles. They predict that the continued lack of responsibility of the British population will leave the NHS with no choice other than to pare back some of the free treatment that we currently receive and start to penalise unhealthy behaviours. And despite new research indicating that the public recognise the need for such penalties, the viewpoint does not chime with current behaviour and people are failing to take responsibility.
This behaviour cannot continue. Government initiatives to take billions of pounds out of the welfare state budget in an effort to restore the UK’s balance sheet are being hindered by those of us who have the means to mitigate against the loss of income, due to death or the long term illness, but don’t because we we’ve become dependent upon a welfare ‘safety net’ that for many of us is not even adequate. With less and less money available from the state to help people support people in need, something needs to give, and increasingly we will have no choice but to take responsibility for our own health and welfare or face the penalty.
In the Visions of Britain 2020 report, produced by Friends Provident and the Future Foundation, an insightful and realistic picture of how this “irresponsible” behaviour will affect British society ten years from now is painted. The report reveals that there will be a fundamental and permanent change in the provision of free healthcare in the next decade and identifies a disconnect between our aspirations for healthcare, and our behaviour.
Unless we all adopt healthier lifestyles we risk being faced with penalties in the years ahead. The same challenges and opportunities can be said to exist with regards to welfare provision. However, with careful planning and consideration of the choices available to us, challenges can be made into opportunities. By making informed and considered choices and taking responsibility for our own actions, we can secure the freedom to enjoy our lives.
If anyone would like to know more about Visions of Britain in 2020 and how this may shape issues for our industry visit www.visionsofbritain2020.co.uk
Ed Stuart-Brown is Friends Provident head of protection