Britain’s inactivity crisis requires a new minister for sport, health and wellbeing, a House of Lords committee has argued, with the Department of Culture, Media and Sport having presided over an “uncoordinated and fragmented” strategy that failed to deliver change.
A new report by the Lords’ sport and recreation committee says that powers should be removed from the DCMS and transferred to the Department of Health and Social Care to combat growing levels of inactivity in England. It comes as Sport England’s Active Lives Children and Young People survey reports 94,000 fewer children were active in the academic year 2020-21 than before the Covid-19 pandemic.
The committee says a new “national plan” for sport and physical activity should join up plans across government but that the importance of physical activity should also be put on a new footing. Among the recommendations are an obligation for councils to maintain leisure facilities and for PE to be made a core subject on the national curriculum.
Schools should also be required to work with grassroots sports clubs and enable their facilities to be used across the week and outside school hours, the report says, while any reorganisation must come with greater funding from the Treasury.
The authoritative Active Lives study for adults was released in October and recorded a headline decline of 700,000 fewer active people in 2020-21. A separate report into children and young people, published on Thursday, found numbers steady on the year before but with no bounce-back in activity from the initial impacts of the pandemic. Both reports found the greatest declines in activity to be among the most socially disadvantaged.
“The pandemic has made abundantly clear the pressing need to get the country fitter and more active,” said Lord Willis, chair of the sport and recreation Committee. “However, participation in sport and recreation is flatlining. 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 minister 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 minister for sport, health and wellbeing.”
The committee said that its members would now seek to make amendments to the government’s Health and Social Care act as it passed through the Lords, with the aim of facilitating their proposals.