Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson will today (1st November) call on government to help make physical activity a ‘national religion’ and harness its potential to tackle some of the biggest challenges faced by society.
Grey-Thompson, who is Chair of non-profit health body ukactive, will use her keynote address at the ukactive National Summit in Westminster to call for urgent action to tackle the UK’s mounting physical inactivity crisis, which costs £20bn each year and causes 37,000 deaths.
The Crossbench Peer, who won 11 Paralympic gold medals as a wheelchair athlete, will describe physical activity as society’s ‘golden thread’ and outline the significant impact it can have on major issues such as Britain’s ageing population and social care crisis, the future of the NHS, childhood obesity, mental health, crime and economic productivity.
Grey-Thompson will say: “Physical inactivity is one of the biggest crises we face. Every day, parents, grandparents, wives and husbands are dying because they live in a society that doesn’t place enough emphasis on the importance of physical activity.
“For many, physical activity is becoming a national religion – something we love and cherish. Something that serves as the glue, holding communities together.
“And yet, there has been too little policy emphasis, and for too long, on what contributes to the health and happiness of a person, a family, a community.”
The speech comes as ukactive releases a new report on the impact of leisure facilities, which finds they have a social value of £3.3bn to communities nationwide. The report, Physical activity: A social solution, examines the significant impact that leisure facilities have on community health, as well as broader areas such as education, crime prevention and subjective wellbeing (wider mental health and happiness).
In her address, Grey-Thompson will hail the role these facilities play as ‘pillars of society’ noting that their impact goes far beyond offering physical activity.
Grey-Thompson will add: “When communities were rocked this summer by awful tragedies like the Manchester bombing and the fire at Grenfell Tower, it was in leisure centres – like Holmes Chapel, Kensington, Swiss Cottage and Westway – where people gathered to make sense of the atrocities and provide charity to those who needed it most.
“Far from being places to simply gym and swim, these centres are pillars of society, steadfastly supporting communities through thick and thin.
“But many of these pillars are crumbling – in need of urgent repair and renovation to ensure they remain fit-for-purpose, fit for those communities they serve.”
The ukactive National Summit will also see keynotes on physical activity’s potential from senior government figures such as Sports Minister Tracey Crouch, Disability Minister Penny Mordaunt and Justice Minister Dr Phillip Lee.
Concluding her speech, Grey-Thompson will say that these Ministers represent “glimmers of hope” as forward-thinking Westminster figures, but politics as a whole must do more to promote physical activity.
She will add: “For far too long it’s been the case that sport and activity are placed in a box for DCMS to deal with, while for other departments activity is just an afterthought. It’s like Westminster is sitting on the winning lottery ticket, but is too timid to claim the prize.”
“This agenda must fully break out of its Westminster box, so that all Government departments understand, integrate, and implement programmes that embrace physical activity.”