There’s no money. There’s no money. That appears to be the mantra of today. I am not a politician and to be honest am not qualified to comment to the true financial position of the country.
But, as the co-founder of a Bristol based charity, Empire Fighting Chance, I am qualified to comment on our experience of the lack of innovation in spending what money there is.
Has austerity hit the poorest of society hardest? Yes appears to be answer. Does reduced investment and increased demand inevitably mean health services suffer? Yes also appears to be that answer.
As this reduced funding is across the current landscape then the same people providing the same services for less money seems a dangerous strategy. Either they have to help less people or provide a lesser quality of care. Surely there must be a better way? I definitely think there are other options.
My fellow co-founder Jamie Sanigar and I attended the joint All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Sport and APPG on Mental Health meeting to talk about our work with young people and adults dealing with mental health problems.
This invitation came about after we were highlighted due to the success of our own 'Non Contact' boxing training programme as an intervention for people dealing with mental health issues.
The links between having an active lifestyle or participating in sport and enjoying good physical and mental health are well known and accepted. This is good news, however there appears to be a reluctance to invest in this kind of intervention.
This reluctance seems to stem from a number of side effects including rigid funding structures, stigmatisation and a degree of protectionism.
One thing I heard at the APPG was the need to provide a strong business case for an investment in sport with the emphasis on providers and governing bodies to produce it as, guess what, there is no money.
There is an incongruity with this approach, the further into the referral process we go the more it costs the state which starts to undermine the argument that you need a sound business case.
To use a business analogy, I want to spend more on producing my product than necessary, reducing my profits or even becoming unable to meet demand because I don’t want to invest (comparatively small) amounts in research and development and looking at the process efficiencies. It seems that a strong business cases is only applicable when it suits.
What do credible community-based sport programmes offer?
As a starting point they start to make the physiological changes that are often required to allow the attendee to make psychological ones.
Secondly they reduce stigma.
In our case no-one is embarrassed to say that they are attending their local boxing gym and, in a welcoming and inclusive atmosphere, people don’t feel out of place or self-conscious. This is a massive part of the success of our intervention and leads on to the second benefit, reduction in social isolation.
When people are sharing a common goal and a common interest it removes any social and cultural barriers; attendees start to make friends, often with people they normally would not have even spoken to.
Going back to the business case, they are inexpensive. Compared to the cost of mental health referrals, drug-based treatments and their associated side effects, physical activity is significantly cheaper and can allow participants to self-manage their condition without going back into the health system.
Finally they are egalitarian.
Everyone can benefit from a sports-based intervention; treatments are not class, race or postcode dependent.
In a time where funding is hard to come by, budgets are stretched and the health service is under tremendous pressure, we must recognize the role within that sports-led community projects can offer. Resourcing them adequately appears to make sense from a business, but much more importantly, the human angle.
We at Empire Fighting Chance can, and do, change lives.
Martin BispEmpire Fighting Chance