In Australia, about $200 billion is spent annually on health care, and about $2 billion is spent on preventing illness. One reason for the great disparity is that health care is a business for which people are paid, whereas most prevention is a change in personal behaviour for which no one gets paid.
This proposal brings economic incentives to changing personal behaviour for disease prevention where the funds generated are used for the common good to assist disease prevention for others.
Walking to Prevent Disease
Investing in walking infrastructure boosts well-being, but measuring costs and benefits for budget allocation is challenging. The ACT Draft Active Travel Plan and ACT Preventive Health Plan include walking as a crucial well-being and cost-saving measure.
Reciprocal Capital offers a low-cost way to distribute and reinvest capital. People are encouraged to walk by the government, paying their member organisations for each km walked. The member organisations must spend the money their members earn on ways to encourage and develop walking infrastructure for their communities.
Compliance is handled automatically by the payment and expenditure system, making implementation straightforward and cost-effective. The approach can be applied to other social services.
Walking for Well-Being
There is a consensus among health professionals, researchers, and urban planners that walking is good for well-being. Regular walking provides a range of physical, mental, and social benefits that contribute to overall well-being:
- Physical health: Walking helps maintain a healthy weight, strengthens muscles and bones, improves cardiovascular fitness, and reduces the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.
- Mental health: Walking has been shown to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression while boosting mood, cognitive function, and self-esteem.
- Social connections: Walking in neighbourhoods or parks can foster social interaction and strengthen community bonds, enhancing a sense of belonging and overall well-being.
- Environmental benefits: Walking is an eco-friendly mode of transportation that reduces air pollution, noise pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to a healthier environment and better quality of life.
- Urban planning and community design: Investing in walkable communities promotes active lifestyles, reduces traffic congestion, and improves overall well-being for residents. Walkable neighbourhoods are generally more livable, with better access to amenities, parks, and public spaces.
The consensus on the benefits of walking for well-being is supported by numerous studies and public health recommendations that encourage regular physical activity, including walking, as a key component of a healthy lifestyle.
Promoting and Encouraging Walking
The ACT Draft Active Travel Plan and ACT Preventive Health Plan include walking as a vital well-being and cost-saving measure. When people walk, they improve their health and reduce costs to the Community. However, no one pays people to walk, no charges for fuel or vehicles occur, and pathways cost relatively low amounts. The main costs are the cost of a person’s time, but that is not a cost to the ACT budget. Because the costs and savings are invisible to the financial system, it is difficult for the Government to measure costs and benefits for budget allocation.
To overcome this measurement problem, the Government can pay a community organisation for the time its members walk. The community organisation members and the Government decide how to spend the money, laying the financial framework for a walking business with financial records to show compliance and measures of well-being and savings. For example, reduced hospitalisation, fewer prescription medications, and a more productive, low-impact lifestyle.
Notably, the system allows expenditure to adjust automatically to the information from the walking business. The Capital expenditure is actual, and the measurement of benefits initially comes from research and is tuned by measurements of the participants in the walking market.
The approach creates a business for walking where members of organisations receive payment for proven walking and supplying research information. They will live longer, be more productive, and benefit society. The money spent will increase active travel and provide information on exercise to help improve the community’s outcomes. The Community and the ACT government collectively decide how to spend the funds.
Paying people to walk does happen. The Netherlands pays people for every kilometre travelled by bicycle straight into their pay packets. However, paying member organisations and using the money they raise to improve walking infrastructure is a new idea.
Some health funds give members rewards for being active.
Measuring who walks, where, and how much they walk is needed. There are apps available to measure walking and put the measures directly into the accounting tools. Walking a few km covers the cost of supplying and operating the apps, as the Australian Transport Assessment and Planning estimate the benefits of walking at $2.77 per km.
Any organisation with members could participate. The ACT government could pay $1 a km for every proven km they walk, meaning each km walk gives the community a profit of $1.77. The funds collected will operate the business, recruit members, and participate in walking research, development, and infrastructure.
Any member who walks 5,000 steps daily will walk about 3 km and earn $3 daily. Over a year, this will amount to about $1,000. One thousand members will make approximately $1,000,000 a year. The Government and the Community will spend it on walking infrastructure and research.
With enough members, the approach will pay for all existing walking infrastructure expenditures in the ACT. Importantly, the community can calculate the financial benefits of the walking infrastructure.
When the government spends money, it needs to account for the expenditure. Reciprocal Capital does not change what is done. It changes the accounting and the rules under which Capital is expended and accounted for. Modern communications and computing make this low-cost and highly automated.
The money flow tells if the system is achieving its aims and objectives. Not only does the system do most of the work, but all participants’ eyes observe what happens as the systems are highly transparent, leading to compliance.
Implementation is straightforward and removes rules and regulations rather than adding them. The government’s operating cost is much lower than direct spending on encouraging walking and spending on walking infrastructure. The government sets the rules and regulations rather than administering the systems. Compliance is handled automatically by the payment and expenditure system.
Other social services, including Legal Services, Aged Care, Health Care, and other community service providers, can use the same approach. Community Organisations can compete for members but will find that members will move to the ones most convenient for them, and the competition will be for non-financial reasons.