Cuts to sports clubs and community groups must be reversed to bridge a widening “activity gap” contributing to poor health in deprived communities, Scottish Labour has said.
Figures from the annual Scottish Household Survey reveal that the number of people doing regular exercise in the most deprived communities was 18 per cent lower than those in the wealthiest areas. The gap grew by 2 per cent between 2015 and 2016.
Almost a third of people in the most deprived fifth of Scottish postcodes said they hadn’t walked for at least 30 minutes in a single day within the previous four weeks.
The survey covers a range of activities including football, snooker and bowls, but when walking is stripped out of responses, the activity gap between rich and poor widens further, to 20 per cent.
Labour claimed the figures uncover failures by the Scottish Government in public health policy, and called for a review of how austerity was hitting physical health.
The party’s public health spokesman Colin Smyth said: “We know there is a link between deprivation and ill health, and we can now identify a clear ‘activity gap’ between the richest and the poorest.
“We need to see some credible action to close this gap, or our NHS will simply shoulder an even greater burden for years to come. £1.5 billion cut from local council budgets in the past six years will have hammered local sports clubs and community groups, making it harder for people to access facilities.”
The gap in life expectancy between Scotland’s wealthiest and most deprived areas has widened and can be as much as ten years, a study by the Glasgow Centre for Population Health revealed last year.
A Scottish Government spokesperson said activity levels were going up and promotion of the Daily Mile initiative would help raise them further.
The government claimed wider efforts to tackle inequality, including greater investment in affordable housing, would reduce the health gap.
“We are investing to make sport and physical activity accessible to all, regardless of location or background,” the spokesman said. “This includes the Legacy 2014 Physical Activity fund, which has seen £800,000 invested in projects targeted in just this way.
“To tackle the wider issue of health inequalities we are taking action to address the fundamental causes.”
Comment: Josie Murray
Lots of factors contribute to health inequality, but access to environments where you can have physical activity is key.
Walking and cycling are among the best ways of being active, but we know that many areas that aren’t conducive to that. Being able to walk and cycle about safely is something that a lot deprived postcodes don’t currently have. It’s incumbent on people designing the built environment to have active travel as a mandatory part of their planning, which it isn’t currently.
A lack of peer support is also an issue. The government is trying to introduce the Daily Mile into daily life, and we welcome that, but if you haven’t been physically active, it’s difficult to get into that lifestyle.
As much as 70 per cent of health is determined by things outwith healthcare and genetics - so we need to address social inequality if we’re serious about improving the nation’s health.
Public health registrar Josie Murray is the advocacy chairwoman in Scotland for the Faculty of Public Health