Changing Lives: the social impact of participation in culture and sport Contents


1.Culture and sport are crucial to our national life. The UK has a rich cultural sector, including 40,000 community choirs, 11,000 amateur orchestras, 50,000 amateur arts groups, 5,000 amateur theatre societies, 3,000 dance groups, 2,500 museums, 400 historic places, 4,000 libraries, 1,300 theatres and 50,000 book clubs.1 In 2017/18, four-fifths of adults in England engaged with the arts, three-quarters visited a heritage site and half attended a museum or gallery.2

2.However, overall levels of cultural participation have not altered significantly in the last five years, and there are significant variations in engagement according to gender, ethnicity, disability, age, socioeconomic group and geographical location.3 The lack of diversity of participants, and of the cultural workforce, were key concerns running throughout the evidence that we received. Deborah Williams, Executive Director of the Creative Diversity Network, emphasised the importance of countering the presumption that culture is “an elite space” to unlock participation and representation from a broader range of people.4

3.The UK has a long tradition of sporting excellence. Over 70 major sporting events have been staged since the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, and sport contributes more than £39 billion to the economy each year.5 But elite sport and high-profile success is only one part of the story when it comes to sporting participation. The 2015 cross-government Sporting Future strategy introduced a new focus on ensuring that public funding for sports and physical activity is explicitly linked to delivering the social outcomes of physical wellbeing, mental wellbeing, individual development, social and community development, and economic development.6 This has been a key focus for our inquiry.

4.More than six out of ten adults are achieving the recommended physical activity level of 150 minutes a week.7 However, there has been little change in levels of physical activity since 2015, and there are important variations in levels of activity according to ethnicity, age, disability, gender and socioeconomic group. Sport England, the arms-length public body that aims to drive up sports participation, is focusing resources on under-represented groups.8 Some 72% of adults who are physically active agree with the subjective measure of wellbeing that they are ‘satisfied with their lives nowadays’ compared to 65% of adults who are inactive.9

5.We launched this inquiry in 2018 to understand how participation in these activities can support wider social goals. We were particularly interested in looking at how social impact can be measured, what existing cultural and sporting programmes are achieving, and the role that the Government could play in helping the wider benefits of culture and sport to be realised in the UK.

6.During the inquiry we heard about a range of impressive initiatives that are having a positive effect on people across the country. This report details some of what we have heard and seen, and identifies the steps that the Government needs to take to maximise the positive contribution that both culture and sport have to make to providing opportunities for young people, to maintaining health, creating better places to live and work, and supporting people who might otherwise be at risk of offending.

7.We received an unusually high volume of written submissions, testament to the huge range of cultural and sporting provision taking place across the country. In turn this only represents a fraction of what is going on. While this report showcases some of the evidence that we received, we cannot hope to do justice to either all the initiatives that we heard about, or the far larger breadth and social value of sporting and cultural activity across the UK.

8.Arguably the most important finding from this inquiry is that there is no dispute about the positive social impact of participation in culture and sport. The question then is, why isn’t more done across Government to harness the power of culture and sport to address long-standing social problems?

9.The recommendations in this report are two-fold, focussed on specific successful uses of culture and sport in tackling criminal justice, education and health issues, as well as transforming our towns and cities. This report details what we heard from those who took part in our inquiry and makes recommendations about how to further maximise the contribution of culture and sport in each of those specific areas. The second part of our report addresses the issue at the heart of this inquiry: how could better cross-government working deliver greater social impact from sport and culture, and what role should the DCMS play?

1 Dr Daisy Fancourt [SCS0248] para 1.1

2 Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Taking part 2017/18 quarter 4 release August 2018

3 Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport [SCS0202]

4 Q2

6 Ibid

8 Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport [SCS0202], Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport [SCS0259]

9 Ibid

Published: 14 May 2019