Personal Trainers and fitness providers are getting up in arms (again) about councils charging them to use their parks: “I pay my council tax!” cry some; “People can go for a jog in the park without paying!” wail others; “It’s not fair! I’m trying to make a living!” say some more…
I find this somewhat confusing, since no one would assume that a local hall should be available for free, yet this might also be owned by the council. Yes we pay council tax and people can use the outdoor spaces for free, but local councils are cash strapped and licensing fit-pros to use their spaces is a valid and ‘easy’ revenue stream. If we’re making money from their land, why shouldn’t they?
I coach physical activity and I know the value of fit-pros to participants. We help people to change their lives for the better and I make no apology for being clear about that. We can’t stop anyone from getting a genetically pre-disposed illness, but we can reduce their risk of (mostly) avoidable illnesses like diabetes and heart disease; when we get it right, we can create healthy life-habits and improve a whole range of health outcomes. There’s a real possibility that our work has reduced our participants’ COVID-19 risk.
But our work isn’t an island.
Necessary health services are, in the UK, free at the point of access. Physical activity and support to lead an active lifestyle can be prescribed if a person’s health has already deteriorated: we wait until people are unwell before we help them get more active; until then, even in a country where 22.5% of deaths are considered ‘avoidable’, people are left to make health choices with their own finances, safe in the knowledge that the NHS will pick up the pieces. No wonder there’s such inequality in physical activity levels in the UK.
I’m not asking people to be frog-marched into activity, but what if local providers offered free membership for all, with fit-pros being paid a proper salary by local health teams or the NHS?
Sadly, although there is a spectacular health and social care need for us to be working with the public, there is no political will for this to happen. Instead, councils are forced to sub-contract out their sport and leisure responsibilities to private partners who might have beautiful websites proclaiming their commitment to all, but will, ultimately, need to make money; even if they’re not-for-profit, these companies won’t be able to offset sport-facility losses against public health gains.
Which brings me back to the title of today’s blog and thoughts of the 1990s: a heady time of combat trousers, a stirring belief that ‘things can only get better’ and Skunk Anansie giving me an anthem for life (I’ve missed out a key word from the song, but you get the drift).
If you don’t like what’s happening, maybe it’s time to get political.