HC Deb 12 February 2004 vol 417 cc483-5WH
9. Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab)

If the Government will make a statement on their programmes for improving the enjoyment of healthy living for those who live in poverty. [153649]

Mr. Caborn

A total of 257 healthy living centres have been established to date across England using New Opportunities Fund awards to address health inequalities. Sport action zones, regional health and activity co-ordinators, and local exercise and activity pilots are making sport and physical activity accessible to disadvantaged areas and groups.

Tony Lloyd

You will be aware, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the bulk of my constituents are among the poorest people in the country. They would be a little concerned to learn from the Opposition that the poor tend to be drawn towards unhealthy foods. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the poor are no more drawn to unhealthy food than they are to unfit housing or inadequate recreation facilities? There is a problem of access, which the Government are trying to address.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that if we are to change attitudes we must not simply deal with the up and coming generation, we must ensure that the parental generation play a part too? That means getting parents back into the schools and the sports facilities and re-educating them. We must get them involved in sport and the healthy living agenda so that they can be part of the change of culture that we need if we are to transform attitudes to healthy living for all the people in our society.

Mr. Caborn

That is true. If there has been a weakness in how we have developed Government policy, it is in joining some of the very good schemes. Sure Start is probably the most effective scheme that we have introduced in since 1997. While it was set up to deal with children, the education process that has been undergone by parents has been quite profound in many areas. Linking that to sport action zones and healthy living centres is having an impact on lifestyles.

As my hon. Friend the Health Minister was saying, our activity co-ordinating team aims to bring all that together and make it develop holistically. I hope that the White Paper published by the Department of Health on healthy living, with particular reference to obesity, will not be a traditional White Paper, as the Secretary of State for Health wants to hold a major debate on the matter before the document is drafted. I hope that the experiences of hon. Members and their constituents will be taken into account, as there is a genuine desire to look more seriously at health, activity and diet and to take a different approach to the issue. I say that in a non-partisan way—we want everyone to feed into it.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Mr. Stephen Twigg)

Parental engagement and family learning are vital. The Department for Education and Skills is leading on the follow-up to the "Every Child Matters" Green Paper, published last September, which places parental engagement and family learning at its heart, and on the extended schools programme, which has enormous potential to open up facilities, as we discussed earlier in relation to sport and other activities in schools, and to engage with parents from all communities, giving them an opportunity to expand their own learning and to assist their sons' and daughters' education.

Sarah Teather (Brent, East) (LD)

Is the Minister aware of figures published in the health survey for England for 2002, published in December, which showed that obesity levels are disproportionately higher in children and young people from poorer areas? Thirty per cent. of girls and 36 per cent. of young women from poor areas are overweight or obese, compared with 23 per cent. and 27 per cent. respectively in better-off areas. Does she agree that that is a worrying trend, because it signifies wider health inequalities in future lives?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Miss Melanie Johnson)

The hon. Lady is right to make that point. The evidence is that in poorer areas the adults are also much less healthy. There are serious health inequalities in 87 primary care trust areas throughout the country, where people are in the bottom 20 per cent. for health. People's life expectancy can vary by as much as eight years, depending on whether they are born in Manchester or Dorset. That gap is unacceptable, and with our partners in society, including the health service, local authorities and many other players, the Government are taking steps to address the causes of those health inequalities for young people and adults. Indeed, we must do so.

Tony Lloyd

I want to ask specifically about access. In inner-city areas such as my constituency, the reception at the facilities provided is not always very welcoming, especially to adult women who may be new immigrants. For example, there are many Somali women in my constituency who lack any previous experience of taking part in sport and recreation. We must tackle the serious issue of access to those facilities if we are to assist them and the next generation. Will the Minister say something about the health of women generally and specifically those from minority communities?

Mr. Caborn

Sport England has an equity policy, part of which relates to access, and is carrying out a number of pilot schemes. I was in the east end of London a few weeks ago, where there are special courses to accommodate Somali women and others. There are many pilot schemes throughout the country, and I hope that through the nine regional sports boards they will feed into the Sport England board to develop an England-wide strategy for access. We take this important issue very seriously and Sport England is considering the matter in detail, nationally and in the regions.

I can tell the hon. Member for Brent, East (Sarah Teather) that last week the Science and Technology Committee had the Americans over to talk about the "Get Active America!" programme. It was interesting to hear how they are tackling the obesity issue through physical activity. They are saying that there must be minimum standards to start with: they want to get everybody walking 2,000 steps a day and reducing their calorie intake by 100. That is simplistic, but they are trying to arrest the problem of America's becoming even more obese. That is a limited but realistic vision, and we could learn a lot from it.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con)

Does the Minister accept that although there is not widespread poverty in North Yorkshire, there are pockets of rural deprivation? Those people can feel excluded from healthy living, especially if there are no exercise classes in village halls for the winter months. What thought has his Department given to extending such programmes to village halls throughout rural areas, especially where no funds exist to encourage such activities? Has he considered an advertising campaign to stress the benefits, which we heard about earlier, of walking and cycling as a pastime and exercise in their own right?

Mr. Caborn

It is incumbent on organisations to consider solutions. Cornwall now has full coverage of sports co-ordinators in colleges; it is probably the most effective county in England as regards implementation. It has some very rural areas, and transportation tends to be the biggest problem, so it has devised all sorts of transport solutions and projects to ensure that facilities are accessible.

What we can do in Government is to try to give the tools to the regions that allow them to develop their own systems. We are committed to 400 sports colleges, obviously covering rural as well as urban areas. Within that structure, we can devise innovative ideas for getting the rural and urban populations active again. I hope that innovative ideas will come from the rural areas.