Headlines: November 9th, 2004

Older people in Wales are to be allowed to use local authority swimming pools without charge in the first national scheme of its kind anywhere in Europe. The Free Swimming pilot will allow anyone over 60 to swim for free.The Welsh Assembly set providing free swimming for children and older people as one of its ‘Top Ten’ commitments and it will invest more than a million pounds in 60-plus swimming in the current financial year. First Minister Rhodri Morgan, who qualifies for the scheme himself, said it was a key part of the Assembly Government’s drive to encourage healthier lifestyles.Mr. Morgan said regular, light exercise could make a real difference to older people’s health and well-being. “In Wales alone, the effects of inactivity and unhealthy lifestyles cost our health and social care services around 500 million pounds a year,” he said. “By providing the opportunities for people to take greater responsibility for their own health, we will cut the incidence of long-term sickness, improve the quality of people’s lives and reduce the burden on our health services,” he added.

Assembly Sports Minister Alun Pugh said swimming was the ideal activity to begin achieving a healthier lifestyle and he wanted free swimming initiatives to be a catalyst for people to get involved in other sports and physical activities. The Welsh government’s sport and recreation strategy ‘is designed to increase physical activity among men and women of all ages. “While we want to get people into the habit of taking regular exercise as early as possible, I also believe that it is never too late to start,” said Mr. Pugh.

The free swimming pilot scheme has the backing of Help the Aged, which it sees as a step forward in acknowledging that sport, exercise and leisure is as applicable to older people as it is to younger people.