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Minister throws down challenge to APPG

Minister for Safeguarding, Victoria Atkins, has challenged the APPG on Sport and Physical Activity in the Criminal Justice System to provide leadership and coordination to help build the evidence base which will prove sport’s positive impact on crime and violence. 

Speaking at the fourth meeting of the APPG for Sport and Criminal Justice, the Conservative MP for Louth and Horncastle spoke of sport’s “vital role” in improving physical and mental health, giving children trusted relationships and role models, improving employment prospects and increasing life chances. 

“I’m convinced of the very positive impact sport has on younger people’s lives,” the Minister said. “I am genuinely really excited this APPG has been set up and I look forward to reading your work. 

“The challenge for members of this APPG, however, is that the evidence base isn’t good enough at the moment. There is a lack of robust research on the impact of sport interventions on reducing crime and violence.” 

The Minister highlighted the Home Office’s new Youth Endowment Fund toolkit as a platform to collate evidence of successful approaches in preventing serious youth violence. ‘Sport and physical activity’ is listed as a category but as yet it has ‘insufficient evidence of impact’ in its database. 

“A lack of research does not mean that the approach doesn’t have an impact, it just means we don’t have a good enough evidence base at the moment on what that impact is,” Mrs Atkins explained. “I urge this APPG to draw the Youth Endowment Fund’s attention to sport-based interventions and programmes you think they need to consider.” 

Vice-Chair, Rt. Hon. Lord McNally said: “The sad thing is I was having the same conversations when I was first made Chair of the Youth Justice Board eight years ago. I was told there was no evidence to prove sport’s impact. 

“The challenge for us as a group now is to move things forward. We know sport changes lives. We’ve got to work closer with funders and policy makers and show that sport does have this hugely beneficial effect on life chances of young people. It does divert and put individuals on the right path.”  

The APPG went on to hear from Keith Fraser, current Chair of the Youth Justice Board, who outlined the organisation’s ‘child first’ approach and highlighted Levelling the Playing Field (funded by the London Marathon Charitable Trust and led by the Alliance of Sport in partnership with the YJB) as a great example of coordinated evidence-gathering on the impact of sport and physical activity – in this case on ethnically diverse children who are more likely to enter, or who are already involved with, the Criminal Justice System. 

He said: “Evidence shows the significant benefits sport can bring to people involved in the Youth Justice System. It gives them a focus, a purpose and diversion. But the system is not using sport to its full potential and more work is needed. The benefits for the country could be significant.” 

The APPG then heard powerful first-hand evidence of just how beneficial sport can be for those living in areas of high crime, violence and deprivation. 

Imran Ali, Youth Development Manager at Ellesmere Youth Project in Sheffield, showed a photo of him as a youngster, surrounded by other children at the same youth club which he now manages. He estimates that the young people in the photo have since gone on to serve an aggregate of over 200 years in prison. It was sport and trusting relationships, he says, that prevented him following the same course. 

“I played cricket and football, but it wasn’t just the sport that saved me, it was the sense of belonging,” he reflected. “I was with people who looked like me and we had a connection. We had a fabulous coach, Steve Taylor, who was the first trusted adult in my life outside my family. I could offload any issues with him as he was a solid guy. 

“We didn’t need to be involved with other things happening in the area because we were constantly engaged in positive activities. Sport is really just the tool of engagement. The relationships it can start, the connections it makes with trusted adults and your community, are absolutely vital for keeping youngsters on the right path.” 

Mr Ali highlighted the dangers of short-term funding for projects which, in his experience, can be so damaging because young people who come to rely on support then have it suddenly taken away, leaving them bereft, dispirited and vulnerable. 

“We need to revise our attitudes towards grassroots organisations like Imran’s and value their impact,” said YJB Chair Mr Fraser. “We need to support them with long-term capacity and capability to record evidence of their impact.” 

Baroness Amanda Sater, Co-Chair, added: “So often we see sport and physical activity treated as a ‘nice to have’ rather than a ‘must have’. We must rise to the challenge set by the Minister and show leadership, work towards strategic join-up in building the evidence base and combat the short-termism in approach from funders.” 

  • The APPG for Sport and Physical Activity in Criminal Justice will meet again after Parliament’s summer recess. Thank you to our speakers, Victoria Atkins MP, Keith Fraser and Imran Ali, and all attendees. 

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