It wasn’t a surprise to hear Health Secretary Andrew Lansley suggest that government will have to scale back the money it is putting into the Change4Life initiative. A project that has a budget of more than £75m would never have survived the brutal cost-cutting that will be taking place across government this summer and autumn.
Lansley signalling this early is honest and fair; what we have to hope is that ‘scale back’ does not mean ‘abandon outright’, because the scheme remains the single best and most innovative social policy initiative affecting our sector in recent times.
The results of Change4Life have been impressive, whether it be the increased awareness of healthy eating messages generated by TV advertising, or the range of initiatives from Swim4Life or Cycle4Life, to ACS’ own project aimed at getting more fruit and veg sold though c-stores in deprived communities.
Momentum can continue with the scheme, even if it will require some creative thinking and reduced expectations.
Change4Life is important above all because of the policy mentality it represents. The scheme stands as a clear alternative to the lecturing and legislating characterising policy in issues such as smoking and alcohol-related harm.
If we accept that there will be less government money for schemes such as Change4Life we have to look at ways that we can take the strong momentum created and mainstream it into the work of national and local government. That is certainly our ambition for Change4Life and I expect more stores to see the benefits of investing in fruit and vegetables and using the Change4Life brand to help. As for Ministers, we start with an optimistic view on how they take forward the policy decisions they face, but the proof will be in their actions, not their words.