The energy crisis is affecting every business, but soaring electricity costs are having a particularly significant impact on the UK’s swimming pools. As the Energy Bill Relief Scheme comes to a close, a coalition of more than 200 groups in the health and fitness industry wrote an open letter to the Prime Minister warning of reduced services or permanent closures owing to the rising costs.
The letter adds to similar warnings by organisations such as Swim England and ukactive, who recently expressed major concerns that more than 100 pools across the UK are at risk of closure as a result of rising costs.
Huw Edwards, CEO of ukactive, pointed out that energy costs have risen by 300% in the past four years, calling for the government to continue help for intensive energy users. Research for ukactive showed that 74% of council areas are classified as ‘unsecure’, which means there is a risk they will have to reduce services or close leisure centres in the next 12 months. In January, ukactive and other interested groups met with the sports minister to put the case for swimming pools, gyms, leisure centres, and sports facilities to continue to receive bespoke support.
Jane Nickerson is the chief executive of Swim England, the national governing body for swimming in England. She points out how vital swimming pools are to the health of the nation: “Pools and leisure centres are vital parts of the community, improving the health and wellbeing of people of all ages. They help reduce pressure on the NHS and social care system, saving more than £350m pounds a year.” She worries that closures “would be a devastating blow for the millions who rely on being active in the water for their physical and mental health”.
The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) working paper Swimming skills around the world points out the obvious - that people who live without access to swimming pools and swimming lessons are at greater risk of drowning. Annually, there are around 230,000 accidental drownings, and in the UK, around 15% of the total fatal unintended injuries were caused by drowning.
The OECD reasons that preventing accidental drowning is not just about teaching children to swim, but also about educating people on how to behave around water. People who have not had swimming lessons are less likely to have the knowledge and understanding of behaviours necessary to be safe in and around water and minimise their risk of drowning.
Studies conducted in the USA and Australia concluded that Covid-19 indirectly increased the risk of drowning. Following lockdowns in 2020, drowning deaths increased by almost 17% in the USA after the cancellation of swimming lessons following the closures of schools and public swimming pools. In the UK, for example, nearly 1.2 million children are expected to leave primary school over the next five years unable to swim.
People who cannot swim could simply stay away from water, but as the OECD points out: “Climate change is in fact contributing to an increase in both the likelihood that extreme weather events will occur and in the severity of such events, both factors which may increase the risk to drown.”
In addition to the immediate dangers from flooding, as we experience extreme temperatures in the future, more people are more likely to enter the water in order to cool off. This could be dangerous if they don’t know how to swim.
There are some jobs where the ability to swim is a necessary qualification. For example, candidates must be able to prove competence in the water before being accepted into training for the Royal Navy. And swimming is necessary for people wanting to pursue careers in marine biology and conservation, or work in offshore wind farms, for example.
In developing countries, it is more likely that work opportunities are concentrated around sources of water. It was estimated that, in 2020, 58.5 million people worked in the fisheries or aquaculture sectors, even though fishing has been described as the ‘world’s most dangerous industry’.
The ability to swim is essential for the health and wealth of any country’s citizens. While we cannot do anything about the rising energy costs, we can help your leisure centre or swimming pool save money on water. By switching to Castle Water, you could instantly save up to 80% on your business water fixed charges.
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