In 2016, my wife and I returned home to Ireland having lived abroad for almost 10 years. We learned a lot whilst living overseas, seeing how different cultures pride themselves on their healthy and outdoors lifestyle. How to be healthy was a badge of honour and something that was to be admired not admonished.
We returned to an Ireland more self-aware than before, more conscious of our collective health, yet still struggling with some of the fastest growing obesity rates in Europe.
An Ireland where a healthcare system was buckling to breaking point with the weight of chronic illness.
This beautiful country of ours has many problems, no doubt, from housing crises to the cost of living, but we are also a nation of firsts, and firsts for health. We banned cigarette smoking indoors, we have rolled out free healthcare for children and have some of the most comprehensive publicly funded health schemes to be found anywhere.
However, all these firsts are firsts in terms of reaction. It’s time we start to look to be a leader in terms of pro-action.
Upon moving back home, we opened a small gym nestled under the shadow of Ireland’s highest peaks and next to our largest national park. Our mission is to meaningfully extend and improve the lives of 10,000 people living in and around our beautiful town. Over the years, I’ve come to understand the enormous benefits that regular exercise brings to individuals and, by extension, our society. Today, I wish to discuss a topic that isn’t being discussed anywhere: why I firmly believe that the VAT rate on gym memberships should be reduced to 0%.
1. Health is an Investment, Not a Luxury
Let’s begin by addressing the most prominent reason – the health of our nation. The WHO cites regular physical activity as a key preventative measure against chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Every time someone steps into my gym, they’re not just working towards a personal goal; they’re actively contributing to a healthier future for themselves (and by extension, their family), reducing the potential burden on our national health system.
By making gym memberships more affordable through a 0% VAT rate, we are ensuring that a larger portion of the population has access to facilities that promote good health. This is especially crucial in a time where sedentary lifestyles and unhealthy eating habits are on the rise.
2. Economic Benefits – A Healthier Workforce
There’s an old saying, “A healthy nation is a wealthy nation”. The strength of our economy is intrinsically linked to the health of our workforce. Healthy individuals take fewer sick days, are more productive, and contribute positively to the workplace. Investing in the health of our people now, by making exercise more accessible, can lead to long-term economic benefits.
3. Job Creation and Local Business Support
Small gyms, like mine, are not just spaces for physical activity; they’re also vital contributors to local economies. Small businesses create jobs, but are being squeezed right now due to rising costs from everywhere. Small businesses, but in particular small gyms should be growing. This growth can lead to the creation of jobs, not only within the gym but also in supporting industries like sports equipment, health supplements, and local cafes that our gym-goers frequent after their workouts.
4. Mental Health and Community Building
Physical health aside, the benefits of regular exercise on mental health are undeniable. Exercise is known to alleviate symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress. In a country where we’re becoming increasingly aware of the mental health challenges many face, the importance of accessible gyms is heightened.
Moreover, local gyms often become community hubs. They’re places where friendships are formed, where people come together in shared pursuits, creating stronger community bonds. This social aspect, combined with the mental health benefits of exercise, can result in a more cohesive, happier, and resilient society.
5. Setting a Precedent for Health-first Policies
Currently gyms are lumped into a tax bracket with Hotels. This is a historic reason as 30 years ago, smaller independent gyms were not a thing. This coupling no longer makes sense. By implementing a 0% VAT rate on gym memberships, Ireland would be making a bold statement: that we prioritise the health of our citizens. Such a policy can pave the way for future initiatives that also place health at the forefront, leading to a more robust, proactive approach to public health.
6. Environmental Impact
Promoting gym culture also has indirect environmental benefits. Gyms can be centres for education on holistic health, including nutrition. A shift towards healthier diets which has a significant link to reduced carbon footprint. Furthermore, more people walking to their local gyms or cycling reduces vehicle emissions, contributing to cleaner air.
While some might argue that reducing the VAT rate will decrease revenue, I believe this perspective is short-sighted. The long-term gains, both in terms of public health and the economic benefits of a healthier populace, far outweigh the immediate monetary losses.
For a country that prides itself on its community spirit, rugged determination, and love for its people, a 0% VAT rate on gym memberships is not just a policy; it’s a statement of our values. It’s time to invest in our health, our communities, and our future.
Sláinte mhaith to a healthier Ireland!