My Lords, I concur with all those who found the three maiden speakers inspiring. I also found their speeches entertaining. I am sure that we will hear much more from them in the future.
The gracious Speech contains little of any major consequence in the area of social health provision other than on the important issue of carers and the welcome introduction of a Care Bill. As one who brought into law an Act of Parliament on carers—namely the Carers and Disabled Children Act 2000—I was disappointed that more progress was not promised for carers in the future. However, I hope that this Bill will be strengthened following Second Reading. My Act is one of only three Acts for carers ever to be introduced in the UK. All three were the result of the Private Member’s Bills ballot in another place, and, incidentally, the other two were also introduced by Labour MPs. As for the coming Care Bill, although I welcome any move in the direction of assisting carers, I also endorse the fears which my noble friend Lady Wheeler expressed about the money to give carers a better deal not being available if the Government’s record to date on giving our social services adequate provision is any guide. It will no doubt fall on local authorities, which are already facing budgetary cuts, to pick up the tab.
I turn to another area which was omitted from the gracious Speech: the very real and growing problem of obesity within our society, especially among our youngsters. I was prompted to speak on this subject today after cutting the ribbon to open a new state-of- the-art clubhouse in Bispham, near Blackpool, some three weeks ago. I was ably assisted by Paul Maynard, Conservative MP for Blackpool North. It was so heartening to see so many youngsters—some 100 or more—dressed in their football attire, wishing that the speeches would end so that they could expend their energies in a constructive and sensible way, putting aside their video and computer games and the like. The facility that was opened contained superb dressing rooms, showers and canteen facilities and was brought about by funding from the Football Foundation. It was so good to see those youngsters enjoying their sport in an environment that many of us, certainly myself, would have wished for and envied in our younger days.
The Football Foundation, of which I am president, is the UK’s largest sports charity and is a partnership composed of the Football Association, the Premier League and the Government. Since its inception 13 years ago, the Football Foundation has produced more than 1,600 grass-roots facility projects with £324 million-worth of investment generously provided by the funding partners. This initial stake from the foundation has attracted an additional £418 million of partnership funding to grass-roots sport from local businesses, housing developers, the projects’ own fundraising and other sources.
We will be losing a major weapon in the fight to tackle obesity if we do not endorse and expand those developments. It cannot be a coincidence that we are the most obese nation in western Europe and that we also have the worst public sports facilities in western Europe. The foundation is doing excellent work on producing better sports facilities but the job is so colossal that its funding can reach only a very small percentage of the tens of thousands of pitches across the country. This investment in the grass-roots sports infrastructure helps to improve not just the health of the population but the health of the economy as well. When a local football club, council or school builds a new changing pavilion or playing surface, it also provides important jobs for architects, builders, carpenters, plumbers, electricians and more. Later this month, the Football Foundation will release some striking research by the Centre for Economics and Business Research that shows the benefits to the UK economy, in terms of jobs, contribution to GDP and growth, that result from its investment. I urge noble Lords to read the report when it comes out shortly. It makes sense for the health of our sports, our people and our economy to take note of the CEBR’s recommendations.
On top of that research, I would also like to highlight the findings of Nuffield Health’s new report, 12 Minutes More, which illustrate the significant savings that accrue to the National Health Service, to the Government and to individuals when the population increases its levels of physical activity. The research highlights that the average person does well below the recommended level of exercise, exercising on only four days per month. However, if the average person did just 12 minutes more physical activity per day then they would reach the target level of 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week. The report goes on to spell out the health benefits for individuals of doing these exercises. Those benefits include a 6% lower risk of developing mental health problems; 6% lower cholesterol levels; a 4% lower risk of high blood pressure; a 7% lower likelihood of being obese; and cutting the risk of developing lifestyle-related diseases such as type 2 diabetes and CVD. Nuffield Health argues that if the obese were to get active, it could immediately save the National Health Service £360 million as well as avoid £6.3 billion in further NHS costs, in welfare payments and in loss of earnings.
Much more could be said about the problems of obesity. I hope that during the passage of the Care Bill, the Second Reading of which we will soon debate, there will be an opportunity to raise the compelling reasons why the Government should take positive action in this important area.