England needs an ambitious and radical national plan for sport, health and wellbeing to address stagnant activity levels across the country. The recommendation comes in a new report from the House of Lords Sport and Recreation Committee which is published today.
A national plan is vital as the delivery of sport and recreation is currently ‘uncoordinated and fragmented’ with funding structures that are ‘not fit for purpose’. These failures have seen the percentage of people classed as ‘inactive’ increase from 25.6% to 27.5% since 2016.
The failures of sports and recreation policy means little progress has been made in tackling high levels of inactivity among particular groups including women, disabled people, ethnic minorities, the elderly and people from less affluent backgrounds.
To deliver the new national plan effectively, responsibility for sport policy should move from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport – which lacks the clout within Government to deliver the cross-departmental coordination that the new national plan requires – to the Department of Health and Social Care under a new Minister for Sport, Health and Wellbeing.
The move to a health centred approach to sport and recreation, which builds on the model used in other countries such as New Zealand, is part of a package of reforms that would make-up the foundations of the new national plan.
Other key recommendations for the plan include:
- A new statutory requirement for local authorities to provide and maintain adequate facilities for sport and physical activity. Too often hard-pressed councils have cut sport and leisure facilities to ensure they meet legal requirements in other areas. This new requirement on councils should be matched with adequate financial support from the Treasury.
- Funding for sport should coalesce around the new national plan. This will include reviewing the tax environment for the sport and recreation sector to develop a more favourable tax environment. Sport England should improve its funding and support for organisations delivering to underrepresented groups.
- PE should become a core national curriculum subject in schools. The Committee found that PE is not valued highly enough in schools with inadequate teacher training time focused on PE and physical literacy, particularly for primary school teachers. The Committee were shocked to hear that many primary school teachers receive only a few hours’ training focused on PE during their teacher training courses.
- Schools and colleges should be encouraged to develop closer links with local sports clubs to tackle drop-out from physical activity that often occurs when people leave full time education. This would include supporting schools to make their sports facilities much more readily available to local grass roots sports clubs.
- Encouraging more people to be active requires a welcoming and inclusive environment around sport and this is not possible without a robust approach to duty of care and safeguarding. The Government should quickly implement the outstanding recommendations of the independent review on Duty of Care in sport, prioritising the establishment of an independent sport ombudsman.
- The Government should introduce mandatory reporting of abusive behaviour in sport and recreation settings to tackle abuse of children and young athletes. Sport England and UK Sport should impose financial sanctions on sporting bodies that fail to demonstrate that their safeguarding and duty of care provisions are being effectively implemented.
Commenting on the report Lord Willis, Chair of the Committee, said:
“Sport and physical activity can change lives. The pandemic has made abundantly clear the pressing need to get the country fitter and more active. However, participation in sport and recreation is flat lining. The Olympic legacy did not deliver the more active population we were promised, and the latest figures show activity levels have declined since the pandemic. Something needs to change and now is the time to do it.
“To make the changes we need it is time for a new national plan for sport, health and wellbeing. That plan needs to be ambitious and coordinated, and carry the weight of the Government and Prime Minster behind it. That cannot be delivered if it is led by DCMS, a small department with an increasing focus on its digital portfolio. That is why we are calling for responsibility for sport policy to move to the Department of Health and be driven by a new Minster for Sport, Health and Wellbeing.
“The new plan would coordinate efforts of bodies such as Sport England, local authorities and schools to work together to make it easier for everyone to be more active. Our report sets out a number of key priorities and themes that could form the basis of the new national plan and make a real difference to activity levels across the country.
“There is currently a Health and Care Bill making its way through the House of Lords. Members of our Committee will now explore where we can propose suitable amendments to that Bill to deliver the changes we think are needed on this vital issue.”