There is no shortage of government spending on the problem that is the nation’s state of health. For instance, in 2009-10 the Australian Government committed nearly $1 billion in spending over nine years with its National Partnership Agreement on Preventive Health with the Council of Australian Governments (COAG). Through this partnership a range of initiatives have and are being set-up, including establishing national surveying and auditing processes, setting healthy practices benchmarks for schools, communities and workplaces, and widespread advertising, awareness and education campaigns. These are significant, nationwide projects involving the establishment (and ongoing maintenance) of complex infrastructure. They are also very expensive.
Today, an employer who can provide fitness training services for staff on their business premises qualifies for a Fringe Benefits Tax (FBT) exemption. But if a smaller business, which doesn’t have the space on-site, wants to provide precisely the same service in the local gym or park they can’t access a FBT exemption.
A simple change to the FBT rules, allowing an exemption for employer provided fitness services, regardless of whether the employer is able to provide these services through an on-site facility exclusively for its own employees, will create a level playing field for all businesses. Small and medium-sized businesses provide around 70% of all jobs in the Australian economy. If these businesses were able to access the same incentive as big businesses to help their staff be fit and healthy, then we may very well see inroads being made on the problem of inactivity amongst Australian adults.
This is important because population health research has begun to realise that physical inactivity may be as significant as smoking in exposing people to the risks of developing chronic lifestyle disease. For instance, 60 Minutes have recently run a story which opens with this very claim – that sitting is as bad for your health as smoking (Stand up Australia, 60 Minutes, 28 September 2014), and one research paper has even claimed physical inactivity as the “biggest public health problem of the 21st century” (Blair, S., Br. J. Sports Med. 2009; 43; 1-2).
The push to extend the FBT exemption for all types of employer provided fitness services is led by Fitness Australia, the industry body representing health and fitness businesses in Australia. Fitness Australia has utilised Deloitte to estimate the short term cost to the federal budget of extending the FBT exemption. Their estimate is less than $70 million per annum, and some of this would be immediately re-couped by increased income tax from fitness centres and fitness instructors that would benefit from the policy change. In this currently tight fiscal environment, anything which delivers bang for your buck should be high priority.
Visit the campaign website to be involved in the petition to government to make this change. It’s just a simple and quick web-form to fill in. Also, share this link with others. We could all benefit from more accessible employer provided fitness services and quite possibly, a fitter and more active nation.