Cycling England is an independent, expert body, trying to get more people cycling, more safely, more often. The National Health Service (NHS) is the system of publicly funded healthcare in the UK. Cycling England estimates that getting people to cycle three times or more a week could save the NHS £28.00 (US $50 approximately) per cyclist, every year. That’s a lot of money to be saved, not to mention the pollution, carbon emissions and car crash risks that would all be reduced.
But how to get more people to cycle more?
The obvious answer is to build more safe and attractive cycle routes. But here’s the problem … it’s the local authority that builds cycle paths, and the NHS that benefits from the cost savings. The two parts just don’t add up. There’s no advantage to the local authority to spending their money on something that they won’t produce a return on their capital investment.
Or is there?
A new policy initiative called Local Strategic Partnerships aims to bring together local, public, private and voluntary bodies to create Local Area Agreements that help all groups work together to achieve holistic goals such as better health for the local community.
In the city of Leeds, for example, an Local Area Agreement works to create exercise and fitness programmes for people on incapacity benefit, linking the local health trust, the jobs and skills departments of the local council, and local recreation areas and sports centres to design health-promoting courses and events dealing with such problems as chronic back pain, which can lead to people becoming long-term unemployed, often depressed and marginalised by society, not to mention having associated health problems caused by their original condition.
While such schemes are still at the pilot stage, it’s easy to see how such Local Area Agreements could promote wellbeing in a number of areas – small vegetable gardens could be leased to immigrant families to allow them to grow the fruits and vegetables they knew from their countries of origin, and community markets could allow them to sell their excess product without affecting any benefits they might be receiving. They would get cheap good food and exercise, the community would get locally produced food that developed multicultural understanding, and if some participants were successful enough to become farmers, market traders or cooks, then the benefits system would be relieved of a burden and an individual would have been integrated into the economic community as a provider, rather than a consumer.