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Southport & Mersey Reporter® covering the news on Merseyside.

Date:- 24 September 2007

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We need safe, attractive and accessible parks

HEALTH experts call for urban parks to be returned to their former glory to help tackle obesity and poor health, after a report published by the Centre for Public Health and Manchester Metropolitan University emphasises their importance in protecting public health.

The North West of England has some of the largest urban centres in Britain and has a long history of promoting open space in urban areas including initiatives for health and well being. Unfortunately in recent decades this resource has declined, coinciding with a decline in physical activity levels and increase in associated obesity and poor health: if current obesity trends continue, nearly 1/3rd of children under 11 are predicted to be obese or overweight by 2010.

The report suggests that people can be reluctant to use parks for reasons including:-

• There is no park close by;

• There is no safe walking or cycling route to park; and

• Parks can be seen asrisky and linked with crime, particularly if they look neglected.

The report recommends that the health benefits of parks can be maximised by:-

• Developing the role of park staff to champion health;

• Active promotion of parks by health practitioners;

• Reviewing park facilities to encompass the needs of all users;

• Encouraging schools to use parks; and

• Developing a regional urban park website with details of locations and facilities for the public.

Dr Ruth Hussey, Regional Director of Public Health in the North West, said:- “Well managed urban parks and green spaces can help create an environment that supports healthy lifestyles and creates a better sense of well being. Public agencies have a responsibility, in partnership with local communities, to ensure that these areas are safe and well maintained. This report is a timely prompt for action.”

Dr Philip Wheater, one of the co-authors of the report and Principal Lecturer at the Department of Environmental and Geographical Sciences, Manchester Metropolitan University, said:- “For many of those who would most benefit, parks can seem relatively inaccessible because of a range of actual and perceived barriers. Coordinated approaches to the maintenance and promotion of parks as safe, healthy environments are needed if the full potential of parks is to be realised in enhancing public health.”

Professor Mark Bellis, one of the reports co-authors, Director of the Centre for Public Health, added:- “The Victorians recognised the key role parks can play in keeping the public healthy and invested in their development across the North West. Today, faced with an obesity crisis, we need to ensure that our parks are once again safe, accessible and offer youths and adults a real experience, enjoyable enough to attract people away from a constant diet of computer games and channel hopping.”

Ian MacArthur, Regional Director of Groundwork Northwest said:- “This type of approach (as set out in the report) which encourages engaged and vibrant community ‘ownership’ of parks and green-spaces will be vital if they are to fulfil their potential and become essential community assets rather than places for youth nuisance and anti social behaviour.”

Neil Cumberlidge, Deputy Regional Director of Environment, Resilience and Rural at the Government Office North West, added:- “Urban parks are an undervalued resource. We need to do more to maximise the environmental, health and socio-economic benefits they offer.”

Patrick White, Executive Director and Policy, North West Development Agency said:- ‘We welcome the focus NHS Northwest is taking to better health and all things that contribute to keeping people healthy. Access to green space for our urban communities is clearly a vital element of this.”

Liz Newton, Director of North West Region Natural England commented:- “Urban parks provide an important oasis for those who live around them, and give an opportunity for people to interact with their natural environment. It is important that this valuable resource is managed for the health and wellbeing of the North West population.”

Walter Menzies, Chief Executive of the Mersey Basin Campaign commented:- “Healthy communities begin with decent housing and public parks. We have a very long way to go here in the North West. This report is an important contribution to the debate.”

Carers in North West save UK over £11 billion per year

THE value of unpaid support that carers in the North West provide has now reached over £11 billion a year according to a new report¹ published by Carers UK.  The new figures, calculated by the University of Leeds for Carers UK - the leading charity for people caring for their sick, disabled or frail relatives and partners, are 32% higher in the North West than previous estimates of how much the North West's 722,096 carers save the nation.  Nationally the figure has risen from £57 billion (2002) to £87 billion² - more than the annual total spend on the NHS, which stood at nearly £82 billion in the year 2006-2007³. The new national figures are also more than 4 times the amount spent on social care services for adults and children by local authorities each year - £19.3 billion in the year 2005-2006.

The dramatic rise in the value of carers' support is a warning to policy makers about the extent to which our economy relies on the care provided by family and friends. It shows that if only a small number were to give up caring - perhaps through ill health or lack of support - the economic impact could be disastrous. Given our demographics and ageing population, it shows the urgent need for better recognition and support for carers.  Many carers remain isolated and unsupported, with thousands living in poverty and unable to take up paid work or have a normal social life. On the eve of Gordon Brown's first Labour Party Conference as Prime Minister, Carers UK wants Government to recognise the huge contribution made by carers.

Imelda Redmond, Chief Executive of Carers UK says:- "When you put a monetary value on carers' contribution to the economy, it shows the stark reality of the true costs. It is clear that without carers, our NHS and social care systems would collapse. Indeed their input is so vast that it has kept pace with the extra investment put by Government into the NHS.  It is ironic, given the billions they contribute to the economy, that so many carers are forced into poverty and a low quality of life. We need concerted action from Government, employers and public bodies to end social exclusion among carers. Carers are invaluable to the UK. It is time they were given the support and recognition to become valued and equal members of society.

When we look at the wider economic impact, support to carers becomes even more significant. Every year, 1 in 5 carers gives up work to care. By 2034, an extra 3.4 million people could be caring, at a time when the economy needs more skilled workers. The contribution carers make is gradually being recognised in law and in government policies, but in the light of these figures today, developing and funding this support needs to be a urgent priority for all."

The rise in the value of carers' support can be put down to three factors:-

* The number of carers providing "significant" care has risen, owing to health and social care failing to keep pace with demand.

* Although more hours of care are being provided in the community, it is being provided to fewer people because they have increasingly complex needs. This leaves carers making up much of the shortfall.

* The cost of replacement care has gone up, in line with other wages.

Key recommendations in the report include:-

* Robust economic costing to determine the risk to the economy if insufficient care is provided in the future.

* Significant investment in social care, including stimulation of the care market.

* New legislation to make it illegal to discriminate against carers - in the same way that it is for disabled people.

* A full scale review of carers' benefits; and the exploration of tax breaks and tax credits to help carers avoid poverty and remain in employment.

* Sound policies which look at maximising independence and choice for the people being cared for and carers.

* Clarity about the "social contract" for carers - what the state, employers, and others will provide and what individuals have to contribute

* New legislation that treats carers as partners in care.
19 September 2007

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