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Saturday, 14 February 2015

My Challenge To David Cameron Regarding Obesity & Benefits.....

I'd like to know from Mr Cameron whether or not he thinks that his colleague Eric Pickles should have to go on a diet or lose the right to part of his MPs expenses.

For anyone who isn't aware of the background to this question, Mr Cameron announced earlier today that people who cannot work because they are obese should either seek medical treatment and diet or have their benefits cut. Mr Cameron describes this move as a "moral crusade" and has further stated:

"People have problems with their weight that could be addressed, but instead a life on benefits rather than work becomes the choice. It is not fair to ask hardworking taxpayers to fund the benefits of people who refuse to accept support and treatment".

What Mr Cameron is doing here is pandering to the view that obesity is somehow an ethical issue, that being overweight is a symptom of laziness, fecklessness or even greed. Aside from the obvious offensiveness of such assumptions, they take no account of the fact that there may be underlying health issues surrounding the obesity which no amount of treatment will easily sort out. Moreover it is the politics of the schoolyard bully equating obesity with notions of 'lazy scroungers' who 'stuff their faces with burgers at our expense' and so forth. It reminds me of a recent article by the Daily Mail columnist Richard Littlejohn, who described Deidre Kelly ('White Dee') who featured in the TV show 'Benefits Street' as: "a hideous obese slattern". Clearly these prejudices are very embedded in certain quarters and boil down to the essential view that obese people are lazy gluttons and people on benefits are feckless.

One of the most disturbing aspects of this issue is the ongoing problem of sizeist bullying in our schools. According to research by around 1 million children still experience bullying everyday in our schools and one of the most pernicious forms of it is obesity related. I'm not suggesting that Mr Cameron is advocating the bullying of overweight children, however politicians have to be very careful in terms of the language that they use and the attitudes which they pander to. Suggesting that obesity is somehow a moral issue or linked to fecklessness is not only ignorant but gives out all the wrong signals in terms of social attitudes.

Of course what Mr Cameron is really doing is trying to put forward a 'populist' excuse for further benefits cuts. However he needs to be very careful what he says, given that there are a number of Conservative MPs who are themselves on the large side and who no doubt receive taxpayer-funded expenses assistance. Therefore my challenge to Mr Cameron is.......

Given that you see the reduction of obesity as an ethical issue in which the tax and benefits system has a role, do you Mr Cameron think that your colleague Eric Pickles should lose access to MPs expenses should he refuse treatment?

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