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Committee publishes report on the social impact of participation in culture and sport

14 May 2019

Government should recognise the ‘unique power' of sport and culture to change lives, transform cities and break the cycle of crime

Committee Report

The DCMS Committee's report Changing Lives: the social impact of participation in culture and sport finds that opportunities to reap major benefits in criminal justice, education and health are being missed by the failure of Government to recognise and harness social impact.

The Report finds evidence that:

  • Reoffending rates can be reduced through access to sport or cultural programmes
  • Involvement in the arts and sports provides a constructive influence on young people with positive role models
  • Despite a link between sporting participation and educational attainment, sport ‘dropping off' the agenda within education
  • Arts subjects downgraded in schools

The social impact of participation in culture and sport inquiry focussed on specific evidence in tackling long-standing social problems. MPs support calls for sport to be given a higher profile across all government departments to maximise social impact.

Chair's comment

DCMS Committee Chair Damian Collins MP said:

“Culture and sport play a major role in how we see our nation. What we've focused on in our inquiry is the transformative power of culture and sport not just to enrich the value of our lives but to address a range of long-standing social problems.

“We cannot break the debilitating cycle of gang violence and knife crime just by arresting those who commit offences. Government statistics clearly show that custodial sentences in and of themselves do not necessarily rehabilitate young offenders. In schools we have seen that sport and culture can improve educational attainment as well as the wellbeing of the students. Social activities like group singing and walking football can improve the mental and physical health of those who take part. Creative arts organisations are taking the lead in regenerating communities, and major sports clubs are using the power of their appeal to change life chances for young people.

“Yet despite this and the many incredible case studies we have seen as part of this inquiry, there is a lack of a credible agenda to harness the power of culture and sport across government. More needs to be done to co-ordinate and invest in community initiatives, share evidence of success and encourage others to emulate examples of best practice.

“We should see more schools extending their cultural and sporting provision where it can be shown that it improves results across the board. More provision should be made to use culture and sport to divert young people away from the pathway of offending. More prisons should encourage partnerships with sports clubs to help rehabilitate young offenders. More Creative partnerships should be developed across the country to support the regeneration of communities. Social prescribing should become a mainstream part of helping people recover from long term health conditions.

“I would also like to record the Committee's recognition of the value of the work done by volunteers that give so many people the opportunity to take part in programmes across the country.”

Conclusions & Recommendations

Among recommendations from MPs:

  • Funding for community initiatives and organisations to help young people at risk of become involved in or victims of criminal activity
  • A Government review to evaluate martial arts and boxing in prisons in breaking the cycle of crime
  • Ofsted inspections to assess the amount of cultural education offered in school and access to participation at primary and secondary level
  • DCMS must set up and lead cross-government group on social impact of sport and culture, prioritising health, education, criminal justice and regeneration

Breaking the cycle of crime

MPs found evidence that young offenders who participated in sporting or cultural programmes were less likely to reoffend, supporting its conclusion that sport and culture have a positive role in changing the life chances of young people.

Strong testimony to the power of sporting facilities in prison came from ex offender John McAvoy who told the Committee that sport had literally saved his life'. Given the ability to transform lives, prisoner access to sport should not be a lottery. However there was evidence that attention paid to  sport by the Ministry of Justice was inconsistent, with one former minister  describing a "wading through treacle" experience to get anything done.

While national football clubs or Rugby Union have academies working successfully in prisons and Young Offender Institutions, external networks of sports bodies and clubs that were willing to work with prisoners faced barriers, resulting in opportunities being missed.

The Committee also heard evidence of the success of boxing and martial arts in the custodial system. The Report calls for a comprehensive evaluation of their role in tackling crime, both within the prison estate and in the community.

MPs also heard a range of evidence on the effectiveness of the arts in terms of reducing crime, and rehabilitating prisoners. While the role of sport in tackling criminality had been recognised by the DCMS, the Report calls for a joint review with the Ministry of Justice to examine the role of the arts in reducing reoffending.

The power of football to transform communities

Committee visits to Manchester and Sunderland provided evidence of the power of sport to transform communities through partnerships with the cities' football clubs, whether through sports centres or schools where football could inspire and raise aspirations among young people. The Report noted concerns that the unique power of sport was not held in sufficient esteem by the Government.

In evidence, Alistair Campbell noted that successive governments only "paid lip service" to the power of sport, rather than genuinely understanding the benefits it could bring. Evidence to the inquiry about the Government's Sporting Future strategy, aimed at maximising social impact, expressed scepticism about the extent of cross-departmental buy-in.

To ensure success, the DCMS must establish a taskforce working across Government, charged with implementation, with details of how this would operate provided to the Committee by the Government in its response to the report.

‘Downgrading' of arts education risking children's life chances

A new Ofsted inspection regime should be developed to measure the amount of cultural education in primary and secondary schools following evidence that education around arts subjects was being downgraded. MPs have deep concerns about the implications for children's life chances. The Committee repeats a recommendation made in its Live Music report for arts subjects to be added to the EBacc.

Evidence on arts education highlighted the largest gap between the Government's policy intentions and statements and the ‘lived experience' of organisations submitting evidence. The Report calls for an explanation from the DfE and the DCMS with action taken urgently to close this gap. Inspirational approaches as evidenced in some schools must be shared as good practice.

To tackle high rates of childhood obesity, the Government must commit to extending funding for sport in primary schools through Primary PE and Sport Premium beyond 2020. The new Ofsted inspection framework should assess how the money is being used to achieve social impact.

Improving health and wellbeing

The Report highlights a strong evidence base to link participation in arts with health. However, it found that the full health impacts of cultural programmes are far from being reached in social prescribing, a scheme to refer people to community activities in addition to medication. Guidance from NHS England on social prescribing must highlight information about the power of arts and sporting interventions to improve both physical and mental health. The DCMS should encourage sporting organisations to take part in social prescribing schemes which can go beyond physical health benefits to include social impacts, such as tackling loneliness.


During the inquiry the DCMS Committee visited the Brandon Estate in
Southwark, London; the Contact Theatre in Manchester; the Music and Arts Culture quarter in Sunderland; the Beacon of Light community hub in Sunderland; the Etihad Campus in Manchester; Manchester United's Football Club Foundation at Old Trafford. The Report includes evidence from a range of organisations, projects and initiatives in: Leeds; Nottinghamshire; Durham; Bradford; the Isle of Wight; Liverpool; Hull; Folkestone.

Further information

Image: Varun Kulkarni from Pixabay