Significant Government review of arts impacts on health

The DCMS has produced two major reviews of the evidence for arts impacting on health and wellbeing. The independent reviews report a “compelling” evidence base for the role of the arts which “justify policy interventions with public funding”.

The first, ‘A Review of the Social Impacts of Culture and Sport’, is a systematic literature review led by Professor Peter Taylor of Sheffield Hallam University’s Sports Industry Research Centre. Wide-ranging in scope, the review found that: “evidence of beneficial effects of the arts extends to clinical and non-clinical populations, and physical and mental health… not only in helping to improve clinical outcomes, but also as a powerful force in re-integration into society, thereby improving the social impacts via the arts.” It goes on to assert that “The evidence base that exists is considerable.”

The second report, ‘Further Analysis to Value the Health and Educational Benefits of Sport and Culture’, uses cost-benefit analysis to assess culture and sport related interventions. Its analysis concludes that the NHS saves £5 per person per year in reduced GP visits through arts attendance. Savings are also made through reduced reliance on mental health services. Overall the report concludes that “culture and sports participation can help to generate wide-ranging social benefits and cost savings to the exchequer.”

Both of the research reports were funded through the Department for Culture’s CASE evidence review and were concluded in 2014. The reports were published just as Government went into purdah before the general election and no response to their findings has been made by any Government or non-departmental body.

The review also explored arts and wellbeing, concluding that “the impact of the arts on wellbeing has long been overlooked” and that consequently “demonstrations of the impact of the arts on wellbeing as a whole remain quite weak and subjective, as it is probably more difficult to prove the impacts of the arts on individual wellbeing than for other activities such as sport and exercise, or for medication that is subjected to clinical trials.”

The Taylor review offers important recommendations for the role and nature of research into the impacts of the arts. “On the evidence assembled for the current review, desirable improvements in making the social impact case for arts and health would include longer term investigation of the causal relationship between arts participation and health, particularly in non-clinical settings; investigation of the dose response relationship for different arts activities - i.e. how much participation yields what kind of benefits; and valuation of the health care cost savings consequent upon any beneficial effects of the arts on health.”

The results of the literature review and the cost-benefit analysis are likely to have implications for policy decisions after the May general election. The review concludes that “there is a considerable weight of evidence demonstrating social impacts from sport and culture, which justify policy interventions with public funding. Without these, it is unlikely that individuals will participate to the extent necessary to fulfil the social impact potential of sport and culture.”