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Farrer tells government the physical activity sector is critical to fixing the UK’s sluggish economy

By Liz Terry    01 Feb 2024
Mike Farrar address the Active Uprising conference in London on 1 February 2024 / Liz Terry
UK Active chair, Mike Farrar, has called on political leaders of all parties to ramp up collaborations with the physical activity sector
Speaking at the Active Uprising conference, Farrar said evidence is irrefutable that exercise can support physical and mental health
Research shows that 34 per cent of consumers would prefer to receive their rehab in a health club rather than a hospital
Farrar said UK Active will launch an annual private sector benchmarking service will launch next month to deliver more data on the sector’s contribution
I’m calling on party leaders to deploy the physical activity sector to turbocharge the economy.
– Mike Farrar, chair, UK Active
Credit: Liz Terry

Mike Farrar, chair of UK Active, has called on the UK government to deploy the physical activity sector to support the NHS and tackle the UK’s pandemic of poor health and sluggish economy.

 Speaking at the Active Uprising conference in London today (1 February), Farrar warned prime minister Rishi Sunak and Labour leader Keir Starmer there would be “no growth without health” and that any future government must make physical activity a central part of both its health and economic strategies.

 “We’re losing the battle for the nation’s health, but it doesn’t have to be this way,” said Farrar. “I’m calling on our party leaders, as a matter of urgency, to deploy the physical activity sector to help save the NHS and turbocharge the economy.

 “The road to a better NHS, a healthier workforce and a happier Britain lies at the heart of every community – in our nation’s health clubs, swimming pools and leisure centres.

 “Physical activity is one of our best weapons in the battle against sickness and disease. The evidence is irrefutable – put physical activity in your strategy.”

 A quarter (25.8% per cent of the population in England is classed as inactive (averaging less than 30 minutes of exercise a week).

 Farrar’s message comes as UK Active reveals findings from consumer engagement polling with Savanta, showing that an average of more than a fifth (21 per cent) of people with a health condition would rather receive support for this in a gym or leisure facility than a hospital setting. The figure rises to 34 per cent of 16-to-34-year-olds.

Conditions researched include cancer, mental health conditions, diabetes and kidney conditions, musculoskeletal conditions, respiratory and digestive disease, cardiovascular diseases, neurological disorders, skin and subcutaneous disease and sense organ diseases.

 Follow-up polling by Active Insight was carried out to understand what appeals to people about getting support for a health condition in a health club or leisure centre rather than a hospital. Suggestions from the consumer panel included that:

 * it doesn’t involve being in a clinical setting (21 per cent)

* it is a more comfortable environment (19 per cent)* it is a less daunting environment (17 per cent)

* it is easier to travel to the gym, ie distance/convenience of location (16 per cent)* I can try out other activities within the facility that could help me (14 per cent)

* it involves being around other people who are motivated to be active and healthy (13 per cent). 

Farrar urged the government to harness this demand, not only to help people improve their health and wellbeing, but also to reduce pressure on the NHS and improve the health of the workforce to boost the economy. 

Ill health among the UK’s working age population costs the nation £150bn a year, a rise of 60 per cent over the past six years. More than 7.71 million people are currently awaiting treatment on the NHS and over 35.2 million working days were lost in 2022-23 due to self-reported work-related ill health or injury, underlining the urgency need for solutions. 

Farrar said addressing the UK’s underlying poor health must be national priority for Sunak and Starmer as they seek to form the next government, and that they must create the right operating landscape for growth across all parts of sector – including for public, private and independent operators. 

He listed the required levers for growth of the sector, including tax and regulatory measures in the shape of VAT relief and business rate reform for fitness and leisure operators; expanding the Cycle to Work scheme to cover gym memberships and fitness equipment; and a plan for the reform of public sector leisure, to safeguard the future of community facilities. 

Physical activity helps prevent 20 chronic conditions, including Type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease, many types of cancer, MSK conditions, depression and anxiety, and dementia – generating over £4.1 billion in healthcare savings every year. 

There are a number of programmes already offered by physical activity and leisure operators that support people with many of these conditions and show the potential of the sector to be directly support the NH, including UK Active’s musculoskeletal (MSK) pilot programme and partnership with Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital Trust in London which sees physicians offering physiotherapy sessions within gyms and leisure centres across the city.  

Active Uprising 2024 

Active Uprising is UK Active’s flagship conference and takes place today at the QEII Centre in London with an audience of 500 leaders from across the physical activity sector along with partner sectors and agencies. 

Other speakers include former Lioness Jill Scott MBE, an independent member of the government’s National Physical Activity Taskforce, who joins the event to discuss her ambitions to help create a more active, healthier nation; sports minister, Stuart Andrew MP, and Sarah Coghlan, men’s health expert for Movember. 

Kim Leadbeater MP will chair a health discussion about how the NHS and the physical activity sector can become more integrated, with panellists, Charlotte Osborn-Forde, CEO at the National Academy for Social Prescribing; Ben Beevers, group development director at Everyone Active; Emmerline Irving, head of improving population health at West Yorkshire Health and Care Partnership; Dr Davina Deniszczyc, medical and charity director at Nuffield Health; and George MacGinnis, challenge director for Healthy Ageing at UKRI. 

Under the theme ‘Growth, development, and improving the health of the nation’, delegates will also hear from culture and leadership coach Dean Leak, and learn from experts in environmental sustainability, consumer engagement, diversity and inclusion, standards and AI. 

FootnoteUK Active’s consumer engagement polling, carried out by Savanta, polled 2,082 UK adults between 4 and 11 January 2024, including 805 respondents with a health condition (39 per cent of the sample). Data was weighted to be representative of the UK population by age, gender, region, socio-economic status, disability and ethnicity.

 Active Insight’s consumer panel polled 268 UK adults on 24 January 2024. The question ‘what appeals to you about going to a gym/leisure centre to get support for a health condition rather than a hospital?’ was asked of 268 individual respondents as part of a series of consumer panels.

Read UK Active's report on the Active Uprising conference at ref="http://www.hcmmag.com/AU24">www.hcmmag.com/AU24.

UK Active  Mike Farrar 
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