It’s that word legacy again. Last Friday the Local Government Association called for money raised from the soft drinks industry levy to be available for councils to spend on tackling childhood obesity and encouraging greater physical activity in their local areas to “ensure (a) lasting Commonwealth Games legacy”. The day before, the women’s and men’s England Commonwealth Games hockey teams sent a letter to the two candidates vying to be the next prime minister calling for government support to back the provision of PE and team sport within schools. The letter speaks of “our legacy and goal to inspire the nation”. But how serious are we about legacy? How do we ensure that all the fine words don’t turn into empty promises, forgotten about or quietly shelved when difficult choices have to be made?
Let’s take the LGA’s press release first.
The sugar levy, designed to reduce consumption of sugary drinks, has raised around £1.2 billion since its introduction. However, according to the LGA, it is no longer ringfenced to be spent on efforts to tackle obesity and physical inactivity despite a commitment from the government to use it to fund programmes to encourage physical activity and balanced diets.
Sporting events like the Commonwealth Games are fantastic at influencing international perceptions of the UK and marketing the UK to international visitors. But we must ensure that participation boosts fuelled by events like these are not short lived.Gerald Vernon-Jackson, Chair of the Local Government Association’s Culture, Tourism and Sport Board
Councils provide the majority of public swimming pools and leisure facilities, which are now under increased pressure as a result of rising energy costs. Urgent intervention is needed to prevent council-run leisure facilities from closing under cost-of-living pressures. Coupled with long-term investment in public sport alongside major UK sporting events, this will help to inspire people to be more active for generations to come.”
And now the ‘Letter to the future prime minister from England Hockey’.
A joint letter from the men’s and women’s hockey teams, it speaks of the need for “real change” – particularly by creating more opportunities for children and young people of all backgrounds and abilities to enjoy sport and physical activity.
The letter sets out three specific changes that England Hockey want to see:
These two interventions have several things in common. There’s the idea of building on the impetus generated by an event or a moment that has captured the public’s imagination. There’s the emphasis on promoting physical health and wellbeing – whether through active lifestyles and opportunities to participate in sport or through improved diet. And there’s the long-term focus. That’s the legacy thing – looking years into the future and aiming for better than what we have now.
Obesity levels are on the increase while activity levels are on the decrease. Future projections are a serious cause for concern. The Cancer Research charity published a report in June suggesting that around 7 in 10 people in the UK – 42 million people – could be overweight by 2040.
We need to ensure that children are encouraged to lead active lives, understand the importance of participating in regular physical activity and have regular opportunities to do so. But as we have suggested in recent blogs (see below), legacies do not take care of themselves. They can be squandered. The blog Meeting the challenges highlighted the political and economic pressures that will make it hard for the government – of whatever political complexion and in whatever country – to do the hard thinking, make the game-changing choices and provide the generous funding that will be required to ensure that we address challenges such as obesity and reduced life expectancy. Those pressures – and particularly the pressure on the public coffers – will not ease in the next few months or years. They will be with us for the medium term at the very least.
Politicians – and the country at large – have a stark choice. To look to make savings. Deprioritise. Part-fund. Trim. Apply sticking plasters. Or (borrowing a more recent politician’s phrase), to do whatever it takes, meeting the challenges we face by ensuring that our children and young people get the best possible start in life – an education for life.from our blog Meeting the challenges
Image at the head of this article by daniel puel from Pixabay.