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

Nordoff Robbins CEO Julie Whelan responds to the DCMS Committee’s report into the social impact of culture and sport.

At Nordoff Robbins, we welcome the publication of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee’s Changing Lives: the social impact of participation in culture and sport report. The report outlines the significant contribution that culture and sport play in enriching the value of our lives, in addressing a range of long-standing social problems, and the clear impact they have on positive outcomes in health, education, criminal justice and urban regeneration.

The report finds evidence that reoffending rates can be reduced through access to cultural or sporting programmes, and that involvement in the arts and sports provides a constructive influence on young people with positive role models. It highlights how music provision for young offenders and those at risk of offending improves their educational skills and transferrable employment skills, as well as increasing their confidence and self-esteem. In schools, it demonstrates how sport and culture improve educational attainment, as well as the wellbeing of students, with social activities like group singing improving the health of those who take part. The report also champions the creative arts organisations taking the lead in regenerating communities.

At Nordoff Robbins, we know the profoundly positive impact that the arts can have on our health and wellbeing, and I feel privileged to witness day-in day-out how music can improve people’s quality of life, their communication and their relationships. As the UK’s leading music therapy charity, we are committed to championing this through our policy work and research, and it is heartening to see that this report aligns with many of our current focus areas – on the social value and impact of music, music education, social prescribing, and how music can help prevent the big issues facing society, including mental health problems and crime.

However, despite the clear social impact and importance that culture and sport have on society, the report also highlights a reduction in funding across these areas, including in schools and prisons, and the ever-increasing gap between the private and state education sectors.

The committee shared that 59% of nearly 500 state schools in England responded to the Live Music Report survey that the English Baccalaureate has had a negative impact on the provision of music in schools. Furthermore, in 2018/19 music was only a compulsory part of the curriculum in 50% of schools in England at Year 9, and that this decline in music in state schools affects students from less advantaged socio-economic backgrounds disproportionately.

Arts participation through social prescribing has the potential to vastly reduce costs to the NHS, with some data showing a saving of £168.8 million annual cost savings. Social prescribing is being used by around 60% of local health commissioners, and evidence suggests that social prescribing is playing an increasingly important role in connecting health and the arts – but that the potential of the scheme is yet to be realised. This report highlights how many projects, both sporting and cultural, depend heavily on short term funding, and so they are unable to create effective long-term change.

The committee question how the government can better harness this positive social impact, and among their recommendations, they suggest an increase in cross-governmental coordination to encourage the participation in social prescribing schemes. They recommend a review of statutory funding streams, to explore whether these can move to a more long-term and sustainable funding approach for culture and sports organisations. They also recommend that DCMS’s work, in bringing social value into central government commissioning, should include explicit consideration of the social value delivered by cultural and sporting organisations.

We at Nordoff Robbins wholeheartedly support these recommendations. As a charity working to improve the lives of the vulnerable and isolated through music therapy, we are always working to reach more people in need, and this report recognises and supports the value of what organisations like ourselves do. We look forward to seeing how this work is taken forward, and we stand ready to assist in whatever way we can, as we continue to champion the incredible social value and impact of music.

Read the full report here.