The government should consider offering tax relief or grants to companies that advise firms on how to create a healthier workplace, according to a new report from a national health body.
Health England, the national reference group for health and wellbeing, highlights in Incentives for Prevention that employers in the UK do not invest in health because “although they incur the costs in full, the benefits do not necessarily accrue to them.” For example, an employee who enjoys free gym membership offered by his employer may reap the health benefits of this intervention years after he has left the organisation.
Essentially, Health England suggests that in many cases it is the UK as a whole, including the NHS, that benefits from healthier workforces. As a result, it is unfair to tax companies if they are not benefiting commercially from workplace health.
The tax break is one of a number of recommendations designed to either help employers see benefits more immediately or split the costs with other stakeholders.
The authors, led by Julian Le Grand, professor of social policy at the London School of Economics and Political Science and a former adviser to Tony Blair, suggest that the government match spending by employers on “relevant activities.”
They write: “The costs would thus jointly be borne by government and employers: an outcome that would be both fair and provide the right incentives.”
Alternative suggestions include a rebate on national insurance for initiatives such as an exercise hour offered at work and tax relief or grants for leisure companies to establish gyms.
The report suggests that pilots be undertaken to identify the most effective measures and highlights the potentially negative impact on tax revenue and European aid. It also cites the PruHealth vitality scheme as an example of subsidies to individuals to engage in health promoting activities.
The authors conclude: “Policies have to be developed either that bring some of the costs from unhealthy activities (or the benefits from healthy ones) back from the future, or that reduce some of the benefits from unhealthy activities (or reduce the costs of healthy ones) in the present.”