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03 Dec 2023

Shocking health inequalities in England prompt £250m investment in physical activity
BY Liz Terry

Sport England's £250 million investment will focus on delivering physical activity in communities with most need

Sport England's £250 million investment will focus on delivering physical activity in communities with most need
photo: DisobeyArt/Shutterstock

New insight from UK quango, Sport England has found that healthy life expectancy in England – ie, the number of years people live without debilitating disease – can vary by up to 17 years, depending on where they live.

This – in turn – leads to lifespans that are shortened by up to nine years for people living in deprived areas.

People living in some parts of the country are also twice as likely to have a disability or health condition than those living in other places.

Sport England Place Insight found the most active places in England have almost double the activity level of the least active, at 81 per cent vs 43 per cent, while inactivity levels in England’s most deprived places are double those in the least deprived, at 38 per cent vs 18 per cent, with these trends driving the disparities in longevity.

Sport England CEO, Tim Hollingsworth, believes addressing this situation is an emergency, saying: “Access to sport and physical activity in England is still not close to being a level playing field and where a person lives and the environment around them has a huge impact on how likely they are to be physically active.

“Too often, people in low-income communities don’t have access to the same facilities or opportunities as wealthier areas. This is manifestly unfair and must be addressed as a priority” he continued.

The organisation has been piloting interventions at community level over the last five years as part of its Place Partnerships programme of local delivery, as well as longer term investment in Active Partnerships.

These initiatives have reduced inactivity levels 2.5 times faster than in places without the programmes, delivering 65,000 new low socio-economic participants in 2019/20 and achieving a social return on investment of £78.7m.

Now a new investment of £250 million will be made to build on the original pilot programmes, with the money focused on a range of local spaces where people can be active, such as facilities, parks and outdoor spaces.

£190 million of the money will be spent in the 80-100 places where people are most inactive and have the greatest social need, with Hollingsworth saying: “We’ll invest most in those that need it most, so that everyone has an equal chance of accessing the very real benefits of being physically active.

“Our expanded Place Partnership programme will unashamedly see us focus resources and efforts on communities that need the greatest levels of support and experience the greatest levels of inequality.”

A further £35 million of the money will be used to strengthen work with existing partners and £25 million to create key tools and resources, so every area of England has access to support.

Sport England’s executive director of place, Lisa Dodd-Mayne, said: “We’ll continue to work with local experts from a range of locally trusted organisations and partners in a bottom-up way to break down the barriers which prevent the community’s least active members from joining in.”

The pandemic has been dramatically widening wealth inequality, making equitable access to health and wellness services an ever-increasing challenge for both individuals and policymakers.

This new Sport England scheme has parallels with challenges revealed at the recent EuropeActive Exercise for Health Summit in Madrid by a delegation from the District Institute of Sport and Recreation, City of Bogata in Columbia, where the government is spending US$176m a year to pay 1,600 exercise professionals to deliver physical activity interventions in the community.

Around 6.3 million people benefitted from the programme in the first year, as fitness professionals worked to build active and healthy communities in areas of the city prioritised for their social problems.

You can read more about this initiative here.

Share your views on these programmes in HCM and Sports Management magazines by writing to the editor, Liz Terry, at [email protected].



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