Health Economy, or Why You Don’t Need To Earn A Living

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I like my gym. The staff are friendly and knowledgeable, it’s well equipped, it isn’t too far from my house and there are two novelty oversized dogs that wander around behind reception from time to time. Like most gyms, though, it doesn’t half like a motivational quote. Above the mirror at the freeweight section a banner reads: “Some people want it to happen. Some people wish it would happen. Others MAKE it happen.” It’s a cute trick, motivating you while stroking your ego. You’re one of the ELITE, right? You’re MAKING it happen. The sentence structure alone tells you you’re at least in the top 33.3% of the population, and let’s face it, that percentile is probably lower because you’re just that special, you muscular workhorse, you man of iron. In fairness, determination and the will to do something is a huge part of exercise or going to the gym. Some days you just don’t feel like it, get a few of those in a row and suddenly you haven’t been for a week. Then two. And the more you miss, the harder it is to go back. But there’s a secret ingredient to going to the gym and a healthy life that the gyms don’t put on their banners or turn into a meme for their Facebook page.

Money.

This isn’t me complaining about the price of gym membership – I pay £24 a month for my gym and I think it’s a bargain for what I get – specialist knowledge on hand and well maintained facilities. I could pay less for a no-contract gm like Pure or the Gym Group, but I’ve tried that before and much prefer the culture and atmosphere of my local, independently owned gym. My membership there is a luxury, one I can afford because I have a good job. I buy protein powder to help me along and that too is a luxury. I’ll never complain about the price of any of these things. I think they’re worth it, and no one is forcing me to pay for them. I could go a run or walk more every day and maintain a reasonable level of physical activity for a fraction of the cost. And I do run (though if you want to do it often and at any distance then investing in a good pair of running shoes is advised).

No, this is about the price of health, from what you eat to how much sleep you get and everything in between. It’s no shock to anyone that unhealthy foods are generally much cheaper than healthy options. I could get maybe a few days worth of perishable fruit and veg for the price of several frozen dinners, microwave meals and snack food. In terms of quantity over quality, it’s just not economical to be healthy. This immediately prices huge chunks of the population out of healthier lifestyle choices. This will be down to various factors, like the economic benefits of mass production to businesses, allowing them to price their frozen food more cheaply than the more complex fruit and veg growing industries. Or TL; DR, capitalism. It also has to do with convenience – the most healthy meals are generally prepared fresh, with fresh ingredients. This takes time, which people are pretty short of these days. Maybe they’re looking after children or caring for a partner or parents. Maybe they’re working overtime or two jobs because the cost of living keeps going up and wages aren’t following. So they buy the thing that helps them save time, the quick hit foods, in the oven, in the microwave, whatever. Fuel for the fire. The problem is, a lot of this kind of food doesn’t provide the consistent energy release that can help stave off fatigue and hunger, so you’re tired – so you don’t cook – and you want to eat more. And so it goes. It’s no one’s fault, it’s just circumstance. I’ve done it plenty myself.

And that’s just physical health. Mental health is taking huge hits right now too. Work and financial problems are the top two causes of stress in the UK, according Mind, the mental health charity.  People are working too much, as I said, two jobs or trying to make ends meet on wages that just haven’t gone up fast enough. This, and several other reasons, are why I support a Guaranteed Minimum Income.

The basic idea is that everyone deserves and requires a certain level of income, no matter what, job or no job. Pilot schemes have been carried out, and the results have been more than encouraging. In Dauphin, Manitoba in Canada in the 1970s they tried a GMI scheme and they found that the only demographic who wound up working noticably less were new mothers, and I don’t think anyone in their right mind would see anything wrong with that. Teenagers also worked less, because they didn’t need to contribute to household expenses as they were now helped along by the GMI. This led to grades in school going up and more teens graduated – they could study more and focus on school work more as they didn’t need a job. Hospital admissions decreased during the programme, mental health consultations decreased and rates of domestic abuse went down too. When people didn’t have to stress about money, their lives got better on almost every metric. Mental and physical health got better.

I’m not advocating we had out millions to everyone. I’m saying we’re obligated to make sure people in our society have the bare minimum for a good life. Not benefits, not tax credits, not the Government’s sorry attempt at a “living wage” by rebranding the minimum wage to suit their figures, but a bare minimum income. Because you know what? You shouldn’t have to “earn” a living. A living is what you get just for being here. It’s what you get because you’re here and we’re decent and there are certain things people should just have for being people. Shelter, clothing, education, health, food. There’s no religion in the world other than capitalism that will tell you that we shouldn’t just give this stuff to everyone and work out the rest later. I’m not saying people shouldn’t have to work – if you want that laptop or that car or the new jacket or new trainers or whatever other luxury you have your eye on (like gym membership or protein powders), go earn it. Earn the extras. Food isn’t an extra. Somewhere warm to sleep isn’t an extra. A decent education and medicine when you’re sick aren’t extras. They’re an actual living, and not something you should be expected to “earn”.

We’re all we’ve got. And if we don’t take care of each other we won’t even have that.

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