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The Arts: Health Effects

Volume 629: debated on Wednesday 11 October 2017

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the effect of the arts on health.

It is a great pleasure to appear under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries—obviously with some trepidation, as I know that you are a hard taskmaster. I hope that we can exchange messages on WhatsApp afterwards, about how well I have done in this afternoon’s debate.

Health and wellbeing is much on our minds at the moment, and I am co-chair of the all-party group on arts, health and wellbeing, so this is a great opportunity to debate the significant role that arts-based interventions can play in addressing a wide variety of health and social care issues.

In July the all-party group published an inquiry into that important issue—I am holding it up to get the appropriate screengrab, which can go viral on social media. I can see that the Minister is holding it up as well. If someone could pass it to the Opposition spokesman to hold up, we could get a full house. The report was the result of two years of research and discussions with individuals and organisations from the worlds of health, arts, academia and politics. I assure the House, because I had nothing to do with it, that it is of the highest quality. The people who can take credit are Rebecca Gordon-Nesbitt, who effectively wrote it, Alexandra Coulter, who runs the all-party group with such effectiveness, and my colleague Lord Alan Howarth, the chairman, who invited me to become the co-chairman.

The inquiry and report provide 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. It is important to stress that arts engagement and participation can have a positive impact at every stage of a person’s life. I was struck, for example, when reading the report—I should have known this fact—that one in five mothers suffers from a mental health condition at the time of, or in the first year after, childbirth. The report shows some of the interventions that can help. In Stockport an arts on prescription pilot offered visual art and music projects to women who had or were at risk of postnatal depression. Every woman who participated experienced improvements in their general health, and all but one experienced a reduction in their level of depression. Funding for that service was lost, but similar programmes have been replicated around the UK, with comparable results.

Childhood is another important area where the arts can have a huge impact. I leave aside the effect that music and arts education in schools can have on children’s wellbeing, as well as their educational attainment, although no doubt it is a subject that we will return to in future debates, but it is estimated that possibly 850,000 children suffer from mental health and related physical health problems. Some of the most serious mental health problems can manifest before the age of 24—indeed, in half of cases they manifest before the age of 14.

Such mental health problems can be prevented or mitigated through early intervention. The Alchemy Project, which uses dance as an early intervention in psychosis, had a remarkable effect on mental health. Two groups of young participants with no experience of dance were pushed to work with professional artists. At the end of the pilot both cohorts demonstrated clinically significant improvements in wellbeing, communication, quality of life and many other variants.

A 44-year-old woman in my constituency suffered from depression and anxiety, and she tells me she is not yet recovered from her illness but is now strong enough to go every day to an amazing place called the Huthwaite Hub, which relies in large part on lottery funding. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that former coalfield communities do not get their fair share of funding from the lottery, which would enable more projects like that to help many more people?

The hon. Lady is a very distinguished former arts spokesman, and I know that when she was the Labour party’s spokesman for the arts she highlighted the fairness of lottery funding distribution. Again, without wishing to dodge the question, that is another debate. I am pleased that the Arts Council, for example, is now much more focused on ensuring that more money goes outside London than it has in the past. She makes a fair point that, fundamentally, there is a project in her constituency making a real difference to one of her constituents, and that is to be applauded without any quibbles from me at all.

Let me run through a few brief examples, because I know that many Members want to speak. An arts on prescription programme run by Arts and Health in Cambridgeshire found that three quarters of participants saw a decrease in anxiety. There is clear and growing evidence that with illness and long-term conditions, arts engagement can alter the morphology of the brain and help speed recovery from neural damage. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Humber NHS Foundation Trust have run Strokestra, a pilot collaboration where, through music-based active sessions, almost every single participant who had suffered from a stroke saw a reduction in their symptoms and experienced great social benefits such as enhanced communication. A range of other studies have shown similarly positive effects. Group singing and dance has been shown to improve the voice and movement of people with Parkinson’s disease, and singing enhances lung function and the quality of life for people with chronic respiratory disorders. Arts-based interventions such as listening to music have also been shown to reduce the physiological effects of cancer and coronary heart disease.

May I take this opportunity to plug the Liverpool Philharmonic, which has done similarly good work for the past eight years? Lead musicians and musicians work one-on-one and in groups across my constituency and the wider Liverpool city region. Unfortunately I have not had time to read the report, but if that has not been looked into, it is a great study of positive work that is being done across my constituency.

The Liverpool Phil is an absolutely amazing organisation. I know that you, Ms Dorries, will know it from your own childhood. May I also particularly commend its work on the In Harmony programme, which is one of the most remarkable education initiatives that we have seen? It was started under the last Labour Government but carried on, I am pleased to say, by the current Government.

I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. I very much agree with his examples of where arts can be used to help people with recovery or to manage long-term conditions. I am sure that he would be interested in the Nordoff Robbins music therapy programmes that are run in my constituency. Does he accept that there is a wider role for the arts in public health, and does he think that there is an opportunity to align public health targets and ambitions with music and other arts interventions?

I completely agree with the hon. Lady, and I was going to mention Nordoff Robbins. It is the largest music therapy charity in the country. It reaches 7,000 people every year and aims to double that participation by the end of the decade. She is exactly on point: Public Health England is meant to be involved in focusing on prevention. To a certain extent we have to shift the whole health debate from cure. Cures can be important, but we do not do enough about prevention, and the arts can play an absolutely crucial role. I back her point 100%, and may I also say that I am happy to accept any interventions that plug great examples of how the arts are having a great impact on health and wellbeing?

Would my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the dramatic society in my constituency, the Congleton Players? They make a tremendous contribution towards community life, and last week they presented their 290th production. It was a comedy, “Murder at Checkmate Manor”, and I have to say that I laughed throughout, as did the audience, so much that I could sense endorphins were glowing within me—and all for only £8 a ticket.

I absolutely endorse my hon. Friend’s players. I look forward to visiting them—in fact, I know that the Minister will visit on the 300th production that the players perform. He said that to me before the debate, and I know that he will stick to his commitment. My hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) can tell her constituents to look forward to welcoming my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (John Glen).

The other obvious area to talk about is age. As we luckily have an ageing society in the sense that people are living to be older, the arts can play a huge role in helping people with some of the conditions that come as one reaches one’s later years.

On longevity, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that someone born today has a 50% chance of living to more than 105 and that a 20-year-old today has a 50% chance of living to more than 100? As the period of old age grows, it is important that we have fulfilling activities for older people.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and he has given me a wonderful introduction to the next part of my speech. Age UK has found that taking part in creative activities such as the arts has the most direct influence on a person’s wellbeing in later life. Indeed, in 20 years’ time we expect more than a million people to have a dementia diagnosis, and engagement with the arts can provide significant help in meeting that enormous challenge. For example, music therapy, which has already been mentioned, has been proven to reduce agitation and the need for medication in two thirds of participants with a diagnosis of dementia. A good example is A Choir in every Care Home, a new project from Live Music Now that is encouraging music and singing in care homes across the UK. That supports evidence that finds that regular group singing can enhance morale, reduce loneliness and improve mental health. Of course, it can also help those who are suffering from a terminal illness. There are legion examples of how the arts and health are working together and making an impact.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to all those who volunteer to help to administer the Cheltenham festival of performing arts, which has been running since 1926? Does he agree that as evidence grows of the potential harmful impact of excessive social media use on adolescent mental health, it has never been more important to get young people out from behind their phones to instil confidence, teamwork and communication to provide for happy and fulfilled lives?

I completely agree with that. It is not only children who suffer from excessive use of social media; that can apply to all categories of people.

Hull city of culture has, I think, been an unequivocal success. It was Andy Burnham who called for a city of culture, but I am pleased to say that it was this Government who saw Derry/Londonderry and now Hull achieve such huge success. There have been brilliant ideas. I was told about something—I do not want to get into too much detail here—called Getting Physical with Men in Sheds, which apparently was a health programme. That was alongside Upswing, which involves circus in care homes; the Wellcome Trust working with 10 pilots to look at the impact of the arts on dementia, ageing and breathing disorders; Reading Rooms, to combat loneliness and isolation; and the Butterfly Effect programme, again on dementia. I mention again Aldeburgh, a well-known arts institution in Suffolk and the work that has been done for it on using music as a powerful tool for social change in the field of health and wellbeing. There are too many examples to mention.

I have been contacted by people from all over the country. They have talked about harp therapy—therapy with a harp instrument. The Canal and River Trust talked about its arts interventions. The London Art Therapy Centre, started in 2010, is working for people with mental health issues. The British Red Cross talked about some of the areas it works in and emphasised the need to prevent people from getting unwell as opposed to intervening when people are unwell. And of course there is Nordoff Robbins.

The current demands on our health and social care system call for innovative solutions. As I hope I have demonstrated in part, and as many interventions have demonstrated, arts engagement has a hugely beneficial effect on health in people of all ages, so it must play a vital role in the public health arena. Most pertinently, the greatest challenges to health and social care to come will be from an ageing population and a prevalence of chronic conditions. The evidence shows that the arts can play a significant role in preventing illness and infirmity from developing and worsening in the longer term.

That approach is particularly in keeping with NHS England’s “Five Year Forward View”, published in 2014, which emphasises a need for a radical upgrade in preventive health interventions. Arts-based approaches can provide a cost-effective response to this objective. Mental health carries an approximate annual economic and social cost of more than £100 billion—about the same as the total NHS budget. The arts can play a significant role. A mental health recovery centre in Wales, co-designed by users and utilising the arts, has saved the NHS £300,000 a year, while an arts on prescription project has led GP consultations to drop by a third, saving £200 per patient. A social return of between £4 and £11 has been calculated for every £1 invested in arts on prescription.

Arts-based approaches can also help health and social care staff in their own work. Within the NHS, more than £2.5 billion is lost through sick days every year. Arts engagement helps the staff to improve their own wellbeing, too, but it is not a habitual part of the training and professional development of health and social care professionals. With so much evidence supporting the effectiveness of the arts to improve health and wellbeing, it is clear that more should be done. With the correct support, this approach can really flourish.

What the all-party group is really calling for is a culture change, not legislation or regulation. Arts-based interventions offer an alternative resource to systems that are under increasing pressure and need fresh thinking. One of the report’s key recommendations is for leaders from the worlds of arts and health to come together to establish a strategic centre to support the advance of good practice, promote collaboration, co-ordinate research, and inform policy and delivery.

The Government can, of course, play a vital role. They can help the conversation between the relevant bodies and organisations and help this objective to be realised. We need greater engagement with policy makers, and Ministers must therefore be part of the process. I really hope that the Minister will engage with colleagues not just in his own Department but in the Department of Health, the Department for Education and the Department for Communities and Local Government, to develop a cross-departmental strategy to support the delivery of arts-based interventions within our health and social care systems.

I am delighted to see the Minister in his place; I think this is our first debate together. I have to say—although I am parti pris—that I hear only incredible reports of his work, so I do not want him to take this the wrong way, but part of me wishes a Health Minister were responding to the debate instead of him. It is a matter of some sadness to me that the last Health Minister to make a speech about the role of the arts in health was Alan Johnson. The current Health Secretary is a former Culture Secretary, who knows the sector well and should understand the opportunities that it presents to make a real impact on health and wellbeing.

I know the Minister will give a brilliant response. As he is aware, the White Paper formally recognises the all-party group’s report and states that the Government will make a formal response. However, I hope that in the coming weeks and months we will also hear from Health Ministers on this very important subject, and from other Ministers whose Departments’ policies have a great impact on wellbeing.

Order. Let me do a quick headcount of Members who wish to speak in the debate.

Nine Back Benchers have indicated a wish to speak. The maths dictates that I will have to call the Front Benchers at 6.22 pm. The debate must finish no later than 6.42 pm, because of all the Divisions we have had. I will therefore have to impose a three-minute time limit on speeches. If there are too many interventions, they will cut that time down further.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey) on securing this debate.

Moving directly on to a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Gloria De Piero), the all-party group’s excellent report highlights the inequality in access to the arts. One of the difficulties is that people who suffer from other social inequities are precisely the ones who are least likely to be able to access the arts. At one point, the funding was run so that there was 14 times as much per person in London as there was in the regions. I know it has improved, and I hope the Minister can tell us how it has improved, but it is still not enough. That is an important point.

I also highlight the work of the fantastic Auckland Castle project in my constituency. At the moment, they are running a summer night show, with a phenomenal 1,500 people participating, all of them volunteers. It would have been good to have measured the wellbeing of the people before the project began and again at the end. If there are any academics listening to the debate, I urge them to come to Bishop Auckland and measure where people are at the beginning and at the end of the summer season. The people who are involved tell me that they feel on a real high, they get a lot out of it and there is a lot of community building, and I am sure that the improvements in wellbeing are measurable.

Finally, I will say something about the report’s proposals on training for people in healthcare. That relates particularly to the needs of people with Alzheimer’s and the extent to which they can benefit from music. It is all very well for people doing PhDs or hospital consultants to understand this, but what is really important is that the people who work with elderly, frail people day by day get the training. I am concerned about that, having seen it with my mother, who had Alzheimer’s, and my father-in-law. It is the people who make the food, who wipe their bums and who get them up in the morning who also need to understand that wellbeing goes beyond the physical and into the emotional. I strongly agree with what the right hon. Member for Wantage said about also receiving a response from a Health Minister. Perhaps a Health Minister could write to the hon. Members taking part in today’s debate.

Thank you for calling me, Ms Dorries. I will make my points as briefly as possible. I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey) for this debate on an overlooked but exceptionally important subject.

I will talk briefly about my island’s relationship with art and art’s wider purpose—there are some fantastic examples of the use of art in healthcare on the island—and then about Arts Council England’s visit to the Isle of Wight on 20 October, which we are looking forward to, both to reinforce our reputation as Britain’s “arts island” and to seek a stronger relationship with national institutions. I look forward to Government support in enabling that, and I thank the Minister for attending the debate.

On the island we have a unique relationship with art. Our history is in some senses an example of art’s meditative and restorative roles. From 1790 onward, when chaos and revolution in Europe made travel difficult, artists and writers began to explore the United Kingdom more. They came to the island, in part, to find a sense of peace and to be inspired by our rural tranquillity, but also our inspiring nature and sea. The island provided inspiration for artists. Turner’s first great work was of the Solent, with the Needles as its backdrop. Tennyson moved to the island to be inspired by it, and some of his work has a meditative and calming sense of his view of life and death. Perhaps the most famous poem that he wrote was called “Crossing the Bar”. Physically, it described the journey across the Solent from the mainland to the island, but metaphysically, it talked about the journey from life to afterlife:

“Sunset and evening star,

And one clear call for me!

And may there be no moaning of the bar,

When I put out to sea”.

I use that quote because art is used on the island in palliative care, in youth mental care and in the NHS. In Newport, our county town, our wonderful hospice uses art to help islanders who are dying to understand and accept difficult and profound issues. Our hospice director, Nigel Hartley, trained as a pianist and psychologist prior to working in the hospice movement. If the Minister ever has a chance to talk to him, he will find him an interesting person. He champions the use of art in healthcare, and we have a wonderful project with the Royal Academy whereby artists and people in the hospice work together to create works of art. We are lucky to have people such as Nigel on our island.

Elsewhere, in our Quay Arts project run by the multi-talented Paul Armfield, we have a WAVES programme that engages over 200 young people. Many of them were reported to us or came through the young carers or mental health services, and they are engaged in the use of art to enable them to express themselves in a more fulfilling way.

Our Healing Arts project operates within our NHS trust, both in commissioning art and organising interactive and creative expression.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries, and also to hear the fantastic, thorough and detailed speech by the right hon. Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey), who initiated the debate. It is long overdue that this issue was debated. It is extremely important for health, mental health and wellbeing, as has been indicated.

I declare an interest as a psychologist. I also have to declare that I am not particularly artistic and do not have much talent in this area, but I pay tribute to all of the therapists who work in art therapy. I also pay tribute to occupational therapists who work in our hospitals, aiding people in their recovery and rehabilitation, building their confidence and skills and ensuring that they are able to fulfil their potential. When people’s self-esteem is at its lowest and they feel most in need, art therapy can be extremely important in helping them to focus, helping their mental health and also in helping them to build self-confidence and purpose.

When I worked in the secure hospital at the State Hospital in Scotland, I saw first-hand the excellent artwork that inmates could do. They were held there, perhaps due to significant mental health issues, without the limit of time, and they perhaps felt that purpose had left their lives and that they had little direction. Being able to showcase their artwork in the hospital and beyond was a fantastic celebration of the skills that they retained, and the things that they could do very purposefully, post-secure hospital, in terms of reintegration into the community. We should never underestimate the value of art therapy.

Before I finish, I want to celebrate some of the work undertaken in my constituency of East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow. The Chill Out Club and the Agape Wellbeing group are both in East Kilbride, both have funding for art therapy and work with people who have mental health problems to help them with their recovery. I also celebrate the work undertaken at the Hope Hub, through the Hope Church in Blackwood. It is excellent work, bringing together people from different backgrounds —those involved in the church and beyond—to come in, form bonds and develop their skills and interests.

It is a pleasure to take part in the debate. Funding for art therapy is funding well spent. I want to hear from the Minister on future directions and support for this important area.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey) on securing this important debate. I agree with the Arts Council, which says:

“Art and culture make life better, help to build diverse communities and improve our quality of life.”

As a Bristol MP, I am proud of the reputation my great city has in support for and delivery of the arts. I say to the Minister, whose Department is making the decision on the Channel 4 relocation, that Bristol is its natural home. Channel 4 would be welcomed with open arms, supported by a booming sector with expertise and a vision for the future of broadcasting.

As the Member for Bristol North West, I represent a constituency of haves and have-nots when it comes to access to the arts. For many of my constituents, getting to and accessing the best of Bristol’s art and culture is economically unviable. That is why I welcome the excellent work of Bristol’s Colston Hall, and the Bristol Music Trust, which works from it, in reaching out to distant communities to bring affordable arts to the many, not just the few. I also congratulate them on their funding efforts to build the first fully accessible music venue in the country.

In Bristol, we rely on performers from across the world and, indeed, Europe. I therefore call on the Minister and the Government to support the Musicians Union’s call for a commitment to ensuring the free movement of musicians.

I will conclude my remarks by talking about music and performance. As a child growing up in Lawrence Weston in my consistency—a council estate on the outskirts of Bristol—I never really got to experience the arts, but one Christmas, when I was in primary school, there was a performance from a local orchestra. There I was, sat on the floor, amazed by the noise that the musicians produced and the sound that they created, together, as an outfit. I decided that that was what I wanted to do, so I went to Portway Community School, now Oasis Academy Brightstowe, which had an amazing school orchestra, led at the time by Nicola Berry, and I learned the tenor saxophone—first, in the symphonic wind orchestra and, latterly, as a jazz musician.

Thanks to predecessors of the Bristol Music Trust, I got access to instruments, one-on-one tuition, music and the ability to practise and take my grades—because of public funding. Music taught me discipline and teamwork, and built my confidence, but public funds are required for pupils whose parents cannot afford to provide them with access to music. 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.

I am always grateful to the people who gave me that opportunity and I call on the Government to ensure that other children, in my constituency and around the country, are not left behind. We must not let the music halls of our schools fall silent across the country. Our performance and confidence as young people, as cities and as a country is based on arts and culture. I hope that the Government will continue to invest in and support local authorities and charities to ensure that all of us, regardless of background, have access to excellent arts and culture training and performance, and the ability to build our confidence for roles such as becoming a Member of Parliament in the future.

I thank the right hon. Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey) for securing the debate, for the inquiry that he started in 2015 and for its findings, published in July 2017 along with recommendations and conclusions.

I want to speak about one specific issue in the short time I have and look not only at the positive impact that the arts have in hospitals, but the role that they play for veterans. The report made 10 recommendations, including the need for arts organisations to work with health organisations and vice versa. Given that that was one of the key recommendations, this is clearly an important issue for veterans. Help for Heroes supports those with illnesses and injuries sustained while serving in the British armed forces. Often those injuries are not visible, with veterans carrying mental scars and dealing with mental health issues on a daily basis.

Although it may seem unlikely, art is a useful weapon in the fight against physical and psychological injuries. In the last year, up to April 2017, Help for Heroes delivered around 150 arts and craft events across its four recovery centres and outreach locations, reaching out to approximately 1,800 very needy participants. At those recovery centres, wounded, injured and sick servicemen and servicewomen can take part in a variety of art classes including, importantly, one-to-one sessions. Activities in woodwork, art, photography, poetry, stone-carving, music and singing—all those things, together and individually, make a difference. Mental wellbeing is vital to a full recovery, but often it can be difficult to talk openly about past and ongoing struggles. The arts can help veterans express themselves while creating something personal.

I want to quote someone whose name it is important to have on the record. We are all moved by what we hear and many of us in this Chamber are aware of these issues. Martin Wade from Surrey was recently awarded the top prize in the wounded, injured and sick category for his painting, “Never Ending Story”, at the Army arts exhibition in Salisbury. Martin served in the Army for 15 years before medical discharge due to post-traumatic stress disorder. He said:

“I was first encouraged to paint after I was medically discharged. Ever since then, Art has been my companion. Being able to have that expressive outlet has been an integral part of my recovery. It is the key component in my toolbox I use to cope with the daily challenges of PTSD...Art takes me on a journey and whilst I am on that journey, all I am thinking about is art. It takes me away from thinking about my challenges. It allows me respite from the stress of dealing with my PTSD.”

For me, that is one of the key things that art can do.

I do not think that anyone here can be in any doubt about the amazing effect that art can have, not only on veterans and people who are dealing with mental health conditions or battling loneliness, but on everyone, in every walk of life. Engaging with some form of art is vital for our wellbeing. It is important that we recognise that and make time in our busy lives to pursue it.

It gives me great pleasure to participate in this debate and to speak about High Peak Community Arts—a fabulous project that has been based in my constituency for more than 20 years, and has helped people with their health and wellbeing throughout that time. It is a real pioneer of outcomes. At the moment, it is funded through five-year lottery funding grants, and it helps people with mental health and wellbeing issues in particular. It creates community arts projects around my constituency, including in ceramics and mosaics. There is a sundial in a park, and it has created a life-sized willow-frame donkey for an elderly people’s care home. Working together on those projects helps people in a way that our health services often cannot.

With Project eARTh, High Peak Community Arts creates arts projects to enhance the natural environment. Those are aimed at adults who are experiencing mental distress or other long-term conditions, such as anxiety, stress, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder. Generally, the participants are isolated and are lacking in self-confidence and self-esteem, and working together on those projects addresses such issues.

Being creative is relaxing, absorbing and takes people’s minds away from negative thoughts. People work together in the groups, discussing themes and ideas. They often physically work on the same project. We have unveiling ceremonies, in which the projects are unveiled in communities, which gives people a real sense of worth and wellbeing in the knowledge that they have created something.

The story of one of the participants illustrates the project better than any sort of evaluation. The lady was left severely traumatised seven years ago as the result of an armed robbery at her store. She suffered post-traumatic stress disorder and did not leave the house for four years. She lost all her friends because she was unable to talk to them anymore. In spite of all the care she received from doctors, counsellors and other health professionals, she still could not go out on her own. She says,

“I was petrified that my life was collapsing, I felt helpless.”

She felt that nothing could help her, until her support worker took her along to the art group. She managed to speak to people again, and took part in the project. Since then, she has been able to get out of the house to take her dog for a walk. She is not 100% recovered, but the projects have helped her more than anything else.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. I thank the right hon. Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey) for securing the debate, especially after yesterday’s timely World Mental Health Day.

In my previous job, I was an actor and a writer, and I used to think, “What do I contribute to the world?” My sister, who is a theatre nurse, used to say, “When I come home, I want to relax. I want to watch a soap opera, because it makes me feel better.” A recent report from University College London and Lancaster University supports her experience. The researchers discovered that watching live theatre can stimulate a person’s cardiovascular system as much as 30 minutes of exercise.

It is not just watching that has an impact; taking part has even more of an impact. Kirklees is part of the Creative Minds project, which works with NHS England to help service users improve their wellbeing. One of the projects, Active for Life, helps users with mental health issues to access free cycling, and it has had a brilliant impact. One user said, “You’re a life saver.” Another said,

“I get really ill sometimes and I can tell you this really works.”

The Arts Council understands the powerful impact of the arts on communities and wellbeing. It has targeted areas with a low take-up of the arts—Kirklees is one—and has invested in Creative People and Places, which brings culture in all its forms to the community. It empowers citizens not just to watch but to take part. It is about not just large organisations, but community organisations, too: Batley Choir, Batley Poets, Batley Smile and local youth theatres such as Acorn and West Yorkshire Youth Academy all enhance the lives of people with mental ill health.

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.

Overall, participation in arts subjects in schools has fallen by 8.4%, and the indication is that the downward trend will continue. There has been a 28% drop in the take-up of GCSEs in creative arts and a 43% drop in design. It is even worse locally in Batley and Spen. There is a clear and consistent north-south divide in entry to arts subjects at GCSE. If we want a country that is fit and ready for the future, healthy in mind and body, we need to widen access to the arts, rather than allow this Government to withdraw the privilege.

I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey) for securing this debate. Art underpins community and our society. We have heard many great contributions about its effect on individual constituencies, and first I want to draw attention to the Scottish diaspora tapestry that was displayed in Westminster Hall earlier this year. That art brought together 800 people from around the world to create a world-class tapestry showing the spread of Scotland’s diaspora. In that, something important lies: art is for everybody. It is a universal language, from cave paintings all the way through. If we weaken our link with art and leave art out, we greatly endanger our communities and the coherence of our society.

The value of art to health is best summed up by my constituent, Grace Warnock, a young girl who has had far too many encounters with the health service in her short life. In that time, she has used art to express her feelings. She will not forgive me for this, but she drew her own intestines to show the surgeon where they hurt. She went on to create Grace’s Sign, a toilet sign for those with invisible disabilities, so that she does not have to feel left out, offended or upset if people look at her badly when she comes out of a toilet that she needs to use.

One of the groups that helped her in Edinburgh’s sick kids hospital was the Teapot Trust, which Parliament knows of. The Teapot Trust was set up in 2010 by Dr Laura Young and her husband following the tragic death of their daughter. In 2016, Laura was awarded an MBE in the new year’s honours list for her work. Their volunteers and art therapists go into hospitals in Edinburgh and London to bring hope, trust and faith to children and their families so that they can engage with some of the most difficult periods of their life, not through verbal explanation, but through the empathy of art. As a community, we have moved away from that.

It is great to have this debate today, particularly following the APPG’s report, to show that art in its wider sense must sit throughout our community. It is for all Ministers across the Government to pay attention to this, as it is for all Members to promote art and to remind people that it is not about money. It is about society, empathy and the people that we came here to serve.

I congratulate the right hon. Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey) on securing this debate. I also congratulate Lord Alan Howarth, who was the mover behind the APPG, and his team, many of whom are here today.

I speak from a personal perspective; I was a primary school teacher for 15 years before becoming a Member of Parliament. The children in my care loved art, drama, craft, music and sport ahead of all other subjects. There was something primal about those activities that goes back to that first handprint in the cave. Every society appreciates art—even a baby in the womb responds to music. There is something primal about art and creativity and we neglect it at our peril. At secondary school, interest in art quite often dips down for young people as they concentrate on reading, writing and arithmetic. Once people enter their working life, it dips down even further for forty or fifty years until they discover art and craft in retirement. We need to concentrate on art and wellbeing in all three phases of life.

My niece, Nadia Wazera, teaches art and craft to blind veterans—our wounded warriors—and that is a primal way of repairing them. The size of the problem facing the country and the world is huge. The World Health Organisation states that by 2030 depression will be the “biggest health burden” on the planet. Replies to questions that I have tabled in this House show that 32.3% of 15 to 25-year-olds have one or more psychiatric conditions and that 85% of prisoners go into jail with mental health conditions. In 1991, 9 million prescriptions for antidepressants were issued; today, that figure is 65 million per year. There are better ways to deal with mental ill health and to promote human flourishing.

There are lots of reasons why we are in this situation, including digital distraction, information overload, social media, advertising and the way that we organise our economy, but it is good to see both the left and the right—David Cameron, who wanted to measure wellbeing, and our shadow Chancellor in his conference speech—quoting Robert Kennedy’s statement that 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.

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Ms Dorries. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey) on securing this interesting debate, which is extremely well timed. The UK Government’s 2021 city of culture competition is in its final stages. I hope that hon. Members, including the Minister, will forgive me for once again shamelessly plugging Paisley’s bid to be awarded that prestigious title. Paisley has a proud track record of recognising the positive contribution that the arts can make to improving people’s health, particularly their mental health, and that is at the heart of our bid —more on that later.

It is now common knowledge that resolving an individual’s health problems often requires a multi-layered approach, because health difficulties are influenced by several competing factors. Hon. Members have spoken about that in detail today, and numerous reports have been highlighted, including recent analysis by the Scottish Government that confirms that cultural engagement has a positive impact on the nation’s health and life satisfaction.

I pay tribute to the work of the APPG on arts, health and wellbeing, which I will join forthwith. In many ways, that group has led the awareness-raising campaign about the benefits of the arts in producing positive health outcomes. Its most recent report, which was completed in the summer and was well received, looks at the positive role that the arts can play in the social care sector and strengthens the evidence base about the role of the arts in producing positive outcomes.

There is clear and growing evidence that participating in the arts can dramatically reduce anxiety, stress and depression. It can also help to reduce the length of patients’ stay in hospitals and the use of some medication. We have already heard about art projects that have generated such positive outcomes and, if hon. Members will forgive me, I would like to spend some time talking about positive work in Renfrewshire that recognises the interconnectedness of the arts and health.

Although it is a national organisation, the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival has firm roots in Paisley. The festival, which is in its 11th year, is one of Scotland’s most diverse cultural events, covering everything from music, film and visual art to theatre, dance and literature. It aims to support the arts and use the power of culture to challenge preconceived ideas about mental health. The organisation states:

“By engaging with artists, connecting with communities and forming collaborations, we celebrate the artistic achievements of people with experience of mental health issues, exploring the relationship between creativity and the mind, and promoting positive mental health and wellbeing.”

Renfrewshire hosts one of the largest regional programmes of that nationwide festival. In fact, 35 events will be held in Renfrewshire next week, engaging around 3,000 people. One of those will be “Making Our Mark”, organised by Renfrewshire Disability Arts Forum and the fantastic Disability Resource Centre, which I visited just a few weeks ago. It is a music, dance and visual arts event whose organisers believe passionately in the role of the arts in helping to generate positive health outcomes.

As I have mentioned once or twice in the House, the great town of Paisley is competing to be named UK city of culture in 2021. Its bid is built on the impact that that title could have on the lives of some of Paisley’s forgotten communities. As part of the bidding process leading up to 2021, the town has galvanized a number of health partners to use arts, culture and creativity to promote health, recovery and social wellbeing. Dozens of local projects are working with groups of vulnerable people in Renfrewshire. To name just a couple, the creative recovery programme at Dykebar Hospital features visual arts, music and song, and the Buddy Beat drummers social inclusion project will celebrate its 10th birthday this Friday.

We are not proud of the poverty in some of our communities, including—but certainly not exclusively—Ferguslie Park, which again has been identified as Scotland’s most deprived community. Deprivation brings with it associated health inequalities. Paisley’s bid is built on the hope that we can use the power of culture to transform the fortunes of our town. We use art to create environments that encourage, enrich and empower people, and we want to be a shining example of the role that culture can play in helping to produce positive health outcomes.

Paisley has given so much to Scotland and, indeed, the world. I believe that the country should do the right thing and award Paisley UK city of culture. This has been an excellent and timely debate and I welcome the cross-party consensus on the positive effects that the arts can have on health. I invite all hon. Members to Paisley in 2021 to celebrate its city of culture programme, which will prove that culture and the arts can help to regenerate a town’s fortunes and improve the health of the most vulnerable in our society.

This has been an excellent debate, as everybody has said. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey), and the APPG and Lord Howarth for all the work they have done. The right hon. Member for Wantage set out the debate very well, talking about the way the arts can alter the morphology of the brain and make a real change. He called for a culture change in society with respect to the arts and their interaction with health. He also said that education was a debate for another day. I am not sure that the Opposition agree that that is the case, and I may come back to that point. He rightly mentioned that Alan Johnson, when he was a Health Minister, emphasised that point, and he quite rightly called upon current Health Ministers to engage actively in this debate, which I also welcome.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Gloria De Piero) on making a timely intervention and on her recent work with my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen (Tracy Brabin) on the Acting Up report, which was commissioned by the Opposition Front Bench to try to emphasise the importance of the arts—particularly access to the arts—for working-class children in the area of acting and across the piece. That point on access was raised by other hon. Members and is absolutely essential. My hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) very powerfully emphasised the issue of access to the arts.

I also congratulate the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr Seely), who spoke very lyrically about his constituency and the great work done there in the arts and health. The hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) gave us a psychologist’s insight, which was extremely useful. She talked about the way that art can give inmates the opportunity for rehabilitation. That certainly reminded me of the campaign that I ran in the last Parliament, when the Government mistakenly made a move to stop prisoners having access in prison not only to books but to guitars. I started a campaign with Billy Bragg and I praised the Government at the time for changing their mind, to allow prisoners the opportunity to express themselves creatively as part of their rehabilitation.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West (Darren Jones) is a very accomplished musician, as he told us. He quite rightly mentioned the Musicians Union campaign. Like him, the new general secretary of the MU, Horace Trubridge, is a saxophonist and I look forward to a duet at some point, perhaps accompanying MP4, the world’s greatest and only parliamentary rock band, of which I am a member.

The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) quite rightly pointed out the value of the arts to veterans who have been through the experience of serving our country, and he was quite right to emphasise that point and bring it to our attention. My hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Ruth George) spoke about Project eARTh, a mental health and arts initiative that brings real benefits in her constituency. My hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen quite rightly mentioned education—I will come back to that point—and my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Martin Whitfield) told us about his constituent, Grace, and the Teapot Trust, in a very valid contribution. My hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane) really is a world leader, as a parliamentarian, on mindfulness, bringing it into Parliament and spreading the word about its importance, and the arts as part of that. He spoke about the primal nature of creativity, and how it is intertwined in our DNA and so important to us. He gave us a frightening statistic about the growth in the use of antidepressants. He quite rightly mentioned, in Libraries Week, the importance of libraries as a creative outlet for people.

Time is fairly short, and it is right that the right hon. Member for Wantage and the Minister should have an opportunity to respond. I want to emphasise a couple of points. We have rehearsed well the value of the arts and creativity to health and wellbeing, and there has been widespread agreement across the House on that. In calling for a culture change, which the right hon. Gentleman rightly did, the difficulty is that while a culture change is needed across the country, it is also needed, if I may say so to the Minister, in Government and among some of his 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%. We all know that drama—my brother is a professional actor, as was my hon. Friend—is a tremendous outlet and means of expression for some young people who can find no other means to do that or find it very difficult to do so. The number of students taking drama A-level has fallen by 26% since 2010.

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.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey) for bringing this matter before us today. I would also like to acknowledge the excellent contributions. We have had 11 Back-Bench speeches and several interventions, and I will try to respond to some of those, but I also want to respond to this excellent report.

I know that my right hon. Friend has been a passionate co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on arts, health and wellbeing, as he was with this agenda as a Minister. I welcome this excellent report: it is thorough, wide-ranging and extremely welcome, and I have studied it carefully.

There are many intensely moving personal testimonies in the report that demonstrate the arts’ power to improve our quality of life from childhood through to our later years. As the report sets out, there are figures that show that the arts have a significant positive effect on our health and wellbeing, which has been echoed in many of the contributions this afternoon. For example, the report states that music therapy reduces the need for medication in 67% of people suffering from dementia. Artlift, an Arts on Prescription project in Gloucestershire, has shown a 37% drop in GP consultation rates and a 27% drop in hospital admissions. A study of deprived communities in London, published in 2012, showed that after engaging with the arts in various forms 79% ate more healthily, 77% engaged in more physical exercise and a staggering 82% said that they enjoyed greater general wellbeing.

I acknowledge that the arts can also help with the management of long-term health conditions and their prevention. The report highlights, helpfully, how dance has been used as a form of early intervention with psychosis and has led to clinically significant improvements in wellbeing, communication and concentration among young people.

The arts can and must play a major role in helping us to meet the growing challenges we face in health and social care. As such, we need to make a vital cultural shift to ensure that the arts are fully embedded in the health and social care system. I am sorry I am not a Health Minister, but I am obviously able to interact with other Ministers and I hear that point, which has been made a number of times today. I take that on board.

In last year’s Culture White Paper—my right hon. Friend was the driving force behind it—we made several commitments to build on our good work in bringing arts and health together. When I spoke at the launch of the report in July, I stated my commitment to its recommendations. In particular, 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.

The report also made other recommendations, including the establishment of a national-level strategic centre for the arts, health and social care sectors. We must be realistic about that taking some time to establish, but it is a task I am engaged in. It will require a joint effort by a number of leaders and experts in the sectors, including from NHS England. I support such an aspiration and encourage the sharing of best practice between the arts, health and social care sectors. The more documented and measured outcomes that exist—we have heard good examples today—the more compelling the case is to strengthen the resolve across Government.

Last month I visited the Koestler Trust, a great arts charity for offenders, to hear more about its work and the impact of its awards and mentoring programmes on the most vulnerable people. The evidence was that its awards and programmes have had a positive impact on the lives of vulnerable people and offenders. Last year’s annual survey of award entrants showed that 82% felt that the awards had improved their confidence levels. I feel strongly that we must continue to promote and support such work.

I am delighted that the impressive work of charities such as Koestler will continue to be supported through the Arts Council national portfolio in the next investment period, which is 2018 to 2022. I am also keen to host another roundtable discussion with arts organisations and the Prisons Minister to build on the work of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wantage in that area. My officials are working urgently to help to arrange that discussion.

Last month, when I was in the Lake district, I visited Theatre by the Lake, an impressive organisation that works with different community groups to address rural isolation. It was the recent winner of the Alzheimer’s Society award for dementia-friendly organisation of the year, in recognition of its special performances for those suffering from dementia. That is vital work and, clearly, many theatres up and down the country make a significant contribution to wellbeing in their communities. I acknowledge that—we need to work to document it and to bring it into the heart of policy making.

Museums also do great work for people with dementia. As was mentioned by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Dan Carden), who is no longer in his place, the House of Memories project in Liverpool has had great success with the local clinical commissioning group and is now exploring how to expand that outside its area, possibly using a franchise model. The project has trained more than 11,000 health, housing and social care workers in how to use the museum’s collections to connect with vulnerable dementia sufferers, generating an estimated £12.6 million in social value.

Just the weekend before last, on my second visit to Manchester as Minister, seeing its wonderful museums and galleries, including the impressive Whitworth Art Gallery, it was clear to me how deeply embedded in the city’s health and wellbeing programmes those institutions are. That was a conscious decision by the director, and that sort of leadership will be needed if we are to get the agenda moving across our nation.

The evidence is growing, but more is needed. The Mendoza review of museums, which will shortly be published, has examined the impact of museums on culture and health, and I hope that that work will allow my officials to develop the evidence base about the impact that museums have had on many fields, so that it can be shared more widely around Government.

In the interests of time, I have to abbreviate my remarks, but I will just mention libraries, as it is Libraries Week; I will visit a library in Pimlico tomorrow. My right hon. Friend, who was formerly the Minister with responsibility for libraries, will be aware of the Department’s work with the libraries taskforce, which he set up with the Local Government Association. The membership of that taskforce includes Public Health England and NHS England, in recognition of the importance of public libraries in providing information and support to local people. That taskforce has published a document setting out a vision for public libraries in England, which outlines an ambition for how libraries can deliver better outcomes for communities.

Over the last five years, the Arts Council has invested £41 million in the Creative People and Places programme, building supply and demand in places where engagement with the arts appears to be significantly below the average. So there is work being done on that and I can give the hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Tracy Brabin) more details about that work later. The Cultural Commissioning programme, which is also funded by the Arts Council, is another important element of its work.

In conclusion, it is undeniable that the arts and wider cultural sectors can and should play a key role in addressing some of the most pressing issues faced by both our health and social care systems. It is also important to recognise that politicians, arm’s length bodies, health and social care commissioners and the sectors themselves need to work together to get this matter right. It is an enormous challenge, but it is one that I take very seriously and will take forward. I hope that many of the Members who have contributed today will help me with the next steps to take these recommendations forward and make the aspirations that have been expressed real, so that they can have a real impact across our country.

Three things. First, I hope that the all-party group will get a response from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. Secondly, the mood of the House is that we want a letter from the Health Minister, don’t we? [Hon. Members: Yes.]

Thirdly, everyone who has attended today and so brilliantly contributed to this debate is now officially a member of the all-party group. So let us carry on and we will invite the Health Minister and the Arts Minister to our first meeting.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the effect of the arts on health.

Sitting adjourned.