By Charlotte Cuenot, Public Affairs and Policy Officer, ukactive
The Coronavirus crisis presents a unique challenge for governments and policymakers around the world. Faced with unprecedented levels of uncertainty and risk, political leaders found themselves compelled to shutdown entire economies and suspend normal ways of life. Though necessary, these decisions were undoubtedly difficult to make. But the greatest difficulty lies in the road ahead, and in the many decisions that governments have yet to make.
In the UK, the Public Affairs team at ukactive has been working with MPs and government departments to ensure that the physical activity sector receives the necessary funding and support it needs to continue to deliver its services and improve national health outcomes.
We have secured regular channels of communication with government officials to exchange ideas, submit policy recommendations and highlight the value of the physical activity sector.
And through our engagement with MPs, we have received positive responses from those who are keen to support in every way they can.
The UK Government is under tremendous pressure to strike the right balance between protecting public health and limiting long-term economic damage. As it determines reopening timelines, it will need to consider which sectors are most valuable to our health and economy, and which sectors are ready to reopen safely.
The physical activity sector was among the first to adopt an industry-wide framework for reopening. Approved by medical experts, the framework is designed to support the safety of our staff and customers, and provide the Government with the necessary confidence to allow the physical activity sector to reopen.
Many people in our communities will benefit from the reopening of gyms and leisure centres. The physical activity sector contributes hugely to the health and wellbeing of our nation. Its facilities provide safe places for children and young people to have fun and be active, reducing anti-social behaviour and boosting the younger generation’s confidence; its workforce supports older adults and people with long-term conditions though social prescribing and physical activity interventions; and its exercise classes encourage social connection and community cohesion.
Research shows that the social value of community leisure alone stands at £3.3bn, on account of improved health, reduced crime, increased educational attainment and improved life satisfaction.
As the Prime Minister changes gear to place collective health and wellbeing at the heart of policymaking, the Government will need to work more closely with the physical activity sector to ensure that our potential can be realised.
The sector is willing and able to play a bigger role in the prevention agenda, easing pressures on the NHS and supporting our national recovery from Coronavirus. But we cannot make the 2020s a true “decade of prevention” if the Government unduly delays the reopening of our gyms and leisure centres. Now more than ever, people need access to our facilities and services to safely improve their health, strengthen their immune systems and recover from the physical and mental pressures of the coronavirus crisis.
We will continue to lobby on the sector’s behalf to give the Government the confidence it needs to recognise and support gyms and leisure centres as it further develops its reopening strategy.
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