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Thought leader: Andy Reed on tackling inequality

A new £3m Sports England fund is a good start towards tackling inequality in sport, but we still have a long way to go, says Andy Reed

Published in Sports Management Sep Oct 2017 issue 133
The sports sector must offer more solutions for those in lower socio-economic groups / © shutterstock/Wallenrock
The sports sector must offer more solutions for those in lower socio-economic groups/ © shutterstock/Wallenrock

After Brexit and then the surprise outcome of the general election in June, it’s been an unsettling year for everyone, including us at Sports Think Tank. The political landscape is not as binary as it used to be, with previous certainties no longer assured.

While the new dividing lines in politics may seem a long way from sport policy, they actually reflect many of the same challenges that we face in the sector, such as the socio and economic divisions that run through society today. Maps of the political breakdown after Brexit show that groups living in low-skill areas – and who are, therefore, more vulnerable to poverty – were more likely to have voted leave; with age, income and education being strong drivers.

It’s a similar scenario when it comes to mapping physical activity levels across the country. The most recent Sport England Active Lives Survey reports that 25.6 per cent of the population are currently inactive (doing less than 30 minutes of moderate intensity activity a week), with people in the highest socio-economic groups tending to be more active than those in lower groups. People over the age of 55 or with disabilities were also more likely to be inactive.

Is government doing enough?
The good news is that in January, the government addressed the socio-economic division in their sport and physical strategy. Then, in April 2017, Sport England announced a £3m ‘Tackling Inactivity and Economic Disadvantage’ fund for projects targeting inactive people who have a lower or no income.

This fund will focus on people who are less likely to have a steady income and are living more chaotic lives with additional challenges. For example, they may have an offending background, be dealing with alcohol or drug misuse, or be facing mental health issues.

Making a change
However, £3m will not be enough. One of the biggest problems the sport and leisure sector faces is that it hugely lacks diversity of class on its boards, in management and in user groups. For us to make positive and effective change, it’s vital for us to adapt our way of thinking and even the playing field, so to speak.

There are many good organisations and projects out there like StreetGames and GreenHouse, but if we’re to have the impact needed to help the country’s most inactive individuals, we’ve all got to think and act differently. The sector must ‘let go’ and start designing solutions with people instead of for them. At least the Sport England strategy now recognises this. As it becomes talked about much more across the sector, the necessary funding will start to follow.

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