As we begin the New Year, individuals are inevitably embarking on ambitious new health plans and many of these will utilise local leisure facilities. Sport England hopes to enable such plans through its 'Uniting the Movement' strategy which encourages individuals to return to movement through leisure sector investment. This strategy is indicative of the Government's ambition to improve public health through promoting physical exercise.
Health and leisure
Physical health is intrinsically linked with the amount of physical activity an individual undertakes. The NHS reports that exercise can reduce the risk of major illnesses such as heart disease, strokes, type 2 diabetes and cancer. Likewise, the Government reports that physical inactivity is responsible for 1 in 6 deaths in the UK, as well as costing the UK £7.4billion (including £900million to the NHS alone). The Government also reports a downward trend in activity, forecasting that by 2030, activity levels will be down 35% from the 1960s.
To combat this the Government and NHS have been emphasising the importance of physical activity through various schemes and initiatives. For instance, the Physical Activity Referral Scheme (PARS), where individuals are prescribed physical exercise by their GP and in some instances offered leisure discounts. This has encouraged individuals to go out and use local leisure facilities for the benefit of their physical health. This is a trend we have seen reflected in the leisure sector as we have worked with several local authorities which have sought to integrate health and leisure services, for example by building GP's and pharmacies at leisure centres.
The Department for Health and Social Care will soon be introducing a Health Incentive Scheme to incentivise people to build and maintain a healthy weight. These incentives can come in the form of vouchers to local gyms and leisure facilities which will consequently lead to an increase in longer-term memberships as well as long term health benefits for such members. By incorporating these schemes into their health and leisure strategies, local authorities can reinvigorate their current leisure facilities and improve the health of their constituents. Furthermore, such schemes go hand in hand with Sport England's Uniting the Movement strategy and demonstrate the Government's desire to improve public health through physical fitness.
Uniting the Movement
Sport England's Uniting the Movement strategy is indicative of how the Government is trying to combat the UK's physical activity problem. The strategy outlines how Sport England plans to approach and prioritise funding. As local authorities will be aware, their main access to funding is through the Strategic Facilities Fund, which sets aside £40million to be apportioned into grants worth between £500,000 - £2million. However, this fund is only accessible through solicited applications. Sport England will identify local authorities which share similar visions and strategies and invite them to apply for the fund. As such, local authorities should review the Uniting the Movement strategy, a summary of which is outlined below, and reflect on how it aligns with their own strategies. Read more about Sport England's Funding options here.
The focus of the strategy is on equality, to ensure that every person has an equal chance to benefit from living an active life. Through a collective effort involving public, private and third sector parties, and in collaboration with the health and transport sectors, Sport England is aiming to increase health-related activity and level the playing field when it comes to accessible physical activity.
There are significant financial and public health motivations behind the Government's investment into the leisure sector, motivations which have been compounded by COVID-19. As leisure facilities have been forced to close across the UK during the pandemic overall public health has generally decreased, magnifying the link between leisure and health. Many leisure facilities are in recovery and are not accessible to all social groups. As such the leisure sector requires major investment, which Sport England's Uniting the Movement strategy aims to facilitate. Local authorities should consider aligning their leisure strategies closely with Uniting the Movement. Such alignment may lead to increased funding and improved leisure facilities. This investment may subsequently help individuals maintain their ambitious New Year health routines and improve overall public health.
Contributors: Andrew Hirst and Joseph Perkis.