Community Sports: Impact on Young People - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 4:44 pm ar 16 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Lord Londesborough Lord Londesborough Crossbench 4:44, 16 Mai 2024

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lords, Lord Hannett and Lord Shamash, on making their maiden speeches—or, to use sporting parlance, on getting off the mark in such spectacular style. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Wood of Anfield, for securing this critical debate. I note that, as a Liverpudlian, he took the opportunity to salute Jürgen Klopp before his final match so, declaring my interest as a West Ham supporter, I feel it is only right to tip my hat to David Moyes, our outgoing manager, just days before his final match—if, indeed, David is watching this debate alongside Jürgen.

This debate comes a year after some of us here debated the Select Committee’s report A National Plan for Sport, Health and Wellbeing. As I did then, I will focus today on the rather grim subject of inactivity, because this is a huge and troubling issue, not just for our mental and physical health but for society and the economy, including the health and well-being of our workforce. This is a topic of great significance to the Economic Affairs Committee, on which I now sit.

The UK has suffered a disturbing increase in the number of economically inactive people since 2019. This threatens to become the single biggest drag on our economy, in terms of both productivity and growth. In just five years, some 900,000 people of working age have been signed off as long-term sick, taking the total up to 2.8 million. On top of that, short-term sickness is also growing fast, while thousands of 50 to 64 year-olds have opted to retire early and become economically inactive. As we know, inactivity in all its forms drives up obesity, particularly among the young, which is now reported to be costing the UK more than £100 billion a year, so it is all the more concerning that levels of physical activity have fallen in recent years, replaced in part by increasing sedentary behaviour fuelled by smartphones, social media, video gaming, online shopping, multichannel TVs and general screen addiction. Working from home is another unhelpful trend.

I am surprised that no one has yet mentioned the Government’s policy paper, Get Active: A Strategy for the Future of Sport and Physical Activity. It was published last year, after several delays, and has some very good intentions. It was described by our Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport as “unapologetically ambitious”. I point out that this is our eighth Secretary of State in the last six years. The key objectives are to see 2.5 million more adults and 1 million more children in England being classed as “active” by 2030. But let us put that in perspective, because the Government report that 12 million adults are “inactive”, doing less than 30 minutes’ activity a week—in other words, less than five minutes a day. On top of that, we have another 5 million adults deemed by our CMO to be “fairly active”, meaning they do between 30 and 150 minutes a week, a bizarrely broad bracket with a misleading label. So we have 17 million adults in the UK, 37% of our population, who are either inactive or what I would call underactive, which is a shockingly high number.

As we have heard, when it comes to children it is no better: 53% are doing less than the recommended 60 minutes of activity a day. History shows that the vast majority of these underactive children will become low-activity adults, storing up further trouble down the road.

This drop in activity has happened in spite of the legacy of such events as the London Olympics in 2012, or indeed the billions spent since then by Sport England. As we have heard many times today, Sport England estimates that for every £1 spent on community sport and physical activity, a return on investment of £3.91 has been created for individuals and society. That is a really important claim. Can the Minister explain how that figure is calculated? I am not sure we are seeing the sum of the parts.

In my former life, I was an information and data entrepreneur, brought up on concepts such as statistical significance and returns on investment. They are all highly relevant here, not just for sport and recreation but for the Treasury, health, social security, and work and pensions. We are struggling with a multiplicity of players and stakeholders, both national and local, while the health and well-being remit runs across all these departments, to which we have now added levelling up.

I conclude by calling for much greater cross-departmental collaboration and, possibly, the creation of a new ministerial role to tackle our growing inactivity crisis. If there is room for a Minister of common sense, surely there is room for a Minister of activity.