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'The Arts: Health Effects’ A Westminster Hall debate

‘The Arts: Health Effects’ A Westminster Hall debate, 11 October 2017, was called and moved by Ed Vaizey MP. Opening the debate Vaizey referenced the inquiry report Creative Health: The Arts for Health and Wellbeing published in July 2017. The Report, Vaizey explained, was published by The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing and had provided:

‘Considerable evidence to support the idea that arts-based approaches can help people to stay well, recover faster, manage long-term conditions and experience better quality of life.’

Vaizey, quoting case studies in the report, confirmed that the inquiry demonstrated the positive impact of arts on mental health at every stage of life. Vaizey also called for the Health Minister (who was not present) to respond to the debate.

Parliamentary Members from all sides of the House shared examples of the beneficial effects of arts on health and wellbeing in their constituencies and across all phases. Parliamentarians also called for better training in the arts for healthcare professionals and for the Government to halt the decline of learning in the arts in schools.

Darren Jones MP stated: ‘Children from low-income families are three times more likely to get a degree if they have been involved in arts and culture than those who have not.’

Tracy Brabin MP, drawing on evidence reported at The APPG for Art, Craft and Design in Education (10 October 2017) stated:

‘The bigger question is, what are we doing to ensure access to the arts to support our young people’s mental health? Secondary schools in London have arts on a carousel: art for one term, drama for another and music for a third. In fact, at an all-party group on arts in schools yesterday, I heard a teacher explain how she was first an art teacher, then was asked to take on photography, and then later in the year was asked to take on design technology. That cannot be right.

Chris Ruane MP quoted the Labour shadow Chancellor’s conference speech who in turn had quoted Robert Kennedy’s statement “there is more to life than GDP: there is human flourishing.”

‘As far as I am concerned, human flourishing begins and ends with art, music, dance, theatre and libraries. It is not the icing on the cake; it is the essence of the cake, and it has financial aspects as well as medical ones. We are one of the most creative nations on earth, and we downplay that and make cuts at our peril.’

With respect to the arts and their interaction with health, Kevin Brennan MP, acknowledged Ed Vaizey’s commitment to a culture change across the country. However, Brennan went on to call for a culture change in Government and specifically amongst some of Vaizey’s colleagues:

‘There is nothing wrong with putting an emphasis on basic skills in education. It is quite right that that should concern us all, and it should not be a party political football, but accountability measures in education are set in such a way that they result in some of the statistics that my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen reminded us of. Between November 2010 and November 2015 the number of art and design teachers in our schools fell by 9%. That is a fact; it is going on right now in our schools. We have all said what a wonderful thing music is and what a wonderful contribution it makes to our wellbeing, and I include myself in that, but the number of students taking GCSE music has dropped by 9%.

‘To conclude, I am going to call it out this way: in the Department for Education the Schools Minister, who has been almost a constant fixture in that Department, has been a blockage, in my view, to some of the good rhetoric that comes out of Government about the importance of creativity. At some point, someone in Government, a Minister, has got to do something about it—it starts at the top, it should be the Prime Minister—and has got to say that the pendulum has swung too far, and creativity and the arts are being squeezed out of our education system. All the calls we make for culture change will come to nothing unless action is taken on that point.’

John Glen MP, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport in response acknowledged the need for a cross-Government strategy to take recommendations from the debate and the inquiry forward:

‘I have asked my officials to explore the potential to develop and lead a cross-Government strategy, alongside other Departments including Health and Education, to support the delivery of health and wellbeing through arts and culture.'

Read the full transcript here.