Just how much money can regular cycling save the government through the improvement it makes to the public’s health? On the day British Cycling says that achieving a fivefold increase in the level of cycling could save the NHS £250 million, new research from the Cycle to Work Alliance claims that the cycle to work scheme is already saving the government around twice that amount each year.
In a report called The Healthy Commute published jointly with Sustrans, the Cycle to Work Alliance says that the cycle to work scheme is helping save more than 500 lives each year, and that current participation in it is set to save the government £5.1 billion over the current decade.
The Cycle to Work Alliance brings together companies involved in the administering the government’s cycle to work scheme and supplying bikes under it, including Cycle Solutions, Cyclescheme, Evans Cycles and Halfords.
Its figure was arrived at by using the World Health Organization’s (WHO) HEAT tool, and according to, identifies the positive effects on public health outcomes that participation in the scheme is achieving.
“Improving commuters’ health has always been a central benefit of the cycle to work scheme,” said Mark Brown, head of B2B Services at Evans Cycles.
“This new research helps to quantify this benefit, and shows that both employers and employees are noticing its positive impact.
“Importantly, it also shows how the scheme is having a tangible impact on health budgets.
“With the NHS facing constrained finances as the population ages, the Cycle to Work Scheme is one of the few policy levers that is helping the health service alleviate this pressure.”
Phil Insall, director of health at Sustrans, added: “Many people have made the point: if a drug were invented tomorrow which promised the disease reduction you can get from cycling to work, it would be regarded as a miracle cure.”
Some 85 per cent of the people who signed up to the scheme have noticed an improvement to their health, says the Cycle to Work Alliance, which highlights coronary heart disease, type-2 diabetes and bowel cancer as being among the conditions that a healthier lifestyle can help prevent.
It adds that almost all employees providing the scheme - 97 per cent of them - do so to improve their employees’ health, thereby cutting absenteeism, which the Cycle to Work Alliance says costs UK businesses £32 billion each year.
Public health minister Jane Ellison MP commented: “Physical activity is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, and cycling to work is a great way to ensure regular exercise, especially for those with hectic schedules.
“I am pleased to see from this report that the majority of participants in the Cycle to Work Scheme, including employers, recognise the benefits of keeping fit, and that many participants have noticed improvements to their health since joining.”
Shirley Cramer, CEO of the Royal Society for Public Health, added: “Busy lives and sedentary jobs can prevent individuals from getting the amount of physical activity they need, and cycling to work is a great way to incorporate exercise into daily activities.
“This research suggests that there can be a financial barrier to purchasing a bike and safety equipment and the Cycle to Work Scheme can help mitigate this.
“The Royal Society for Public Health is also committed to improving road safety for cyclists so that cycling to work is a safe, healthy activity for all.”
British Cycling’s figure, calculated by researchers from the University of Cambridge and announced today alongside the organisation’s new #ChooseCycling campaign, is based on cycling levels in England and Wales, excluding London, while the figures published by the Cycle to Work Alliance cover the UK.
The research for British Cycling addresses potential savings to the NHS, while the Cycle to Work Alliance’s figures seem to have a broader compass, so it doesn’t seem we’re comparing apples with apples there, either.
Nevertheless, it’s a big discrepancy, and a surprising one given it’s the lower figure that is based on a hoped-for explosion in cycling levels, while the larger one is based only on the people who have actually bought a bike via the cycle to work scheme.
If they prove anything, it’s the difficulty of quantifying exactly how much of a financial benefit cycling provides to the nation in terms of its health - we know it’s big, but just how big seems to be anyone’s guess.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.