Tax breaks for employers that invest in workplace and occupational health could be back on the agenda if the Conservatives win the next election.
The idea, long backed by a number of major private healthcare providers, has been consistently rejected by the current government. But the Conservatives, in a health green paper published in January, said that, if elected, it would “consult on further measures to incentivise preventative measures in occupational health”.
The Healthier Nation paper, published by shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley, has drawn heavily on recommendations put forward in the summer by his own think-tank, The Public Health Commission.
These called for the tax system to be used to remove “existing financial disincentives to physical activity for both people and employers”, the reduction of VAT on options that made people more physically active, and the removal of tax liability from employers who encouraged employees to be more physically active, removing its current status as a benefit in kind.
In the summer, Lansley also suggested that the government could offer matched funding for businesses that spend capital on promoting health improvement and put an emphasis on improving links and understanding between occupational health and mainstream health professionals.
The Healthier Nation paper makes it clear that David Cameron’s party believes one of the main reasons employers don’t invest more in health in the UK is a sense that it incurs costs while gaining little benefit, so an economic incentive scheme is needed to help employers see the benefits more immediately, or better split the costs between employers, individuals and the NHS, it suggested.
The Conservatives would also “work with business organisations, the NHS, local government and the Fitness Industry Association to establish ‘turn-key’ area occupational health schemes, which can be offered to small and medium-sized businesses”, it added.
The consultation would look in particular at ways to improve access to and spending on cognitive behavioural therapy and counselling, it said.
More widely, the green paper said greater responsibility for tackling obesity, drug use and teenage pregnancy would be devolved to communities on a payment-by results basis, with extra rewards for improving the public health of the poorest.
In spending their dedicated public health budgets, communities would be obliged to forge partnerships with schools, businesses, councils and GPs.
There would also be “responsibility deals” with businesses to prevent “irresponsible activities” and extend restrictions on unsuitable marketing to children with, for example, a clearer system of alcohol labelling.