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Tanni Grey-Thompson: lockdown hitting women’s health and widening gender gap

By Tom Walker    21 Feb 2021
Tanni Grey-Thompson pointed out that women make up 54 per cent of gym members in the UK / shutterstock.com/Liderina

The physical and mental health of women in the UK has been put under unprecedented pressure by the pandemic, according to Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson.

The paralympic legend and chair of industry body, ukactive, said that women not only face an increased workload and less leisure time – but the closure of gyms and leisure centres means that they also have had fewer opportunities to exercise.

"The closure of fitness and leisure facilities has had a profound effect on women," she said.

"They make up 54 per cent of gym members in the UK, with group workouts and swimming central to activity.

"A massive 76 per cent of attendees at group classes are women, with the three most popular workouts being: indoor cycling (spinning); aerobics; and yoga.

"Furthermore, the most popular activity across the leisure and fitness sector is swimming, accounting for 42 per cent of all visits, with women making up 53 per cent of swimming visits – and increasing with age.

"Accordingly, the high demand for group sessions and swimming has led to a disproportionate reduction in activity for women following the closure of the fitness and leisure sector during lockdown.

"The reduction in physical activity during lockdown is, of course, driven by a number of factors – including the access to facilities and the range of activities on offer but also home schooling and anxiety of catching or spreading COVID-19.

"But many of these factors disproportionately affect women, leading to a growth in the gender gap in physical activity."

Baroness Grey-Thompson's comments follow a report published by the Women and Equalities Committee – a committee of MPs – which said the government's response to COVID has "repeatedly skewed towards men".

In a report published on 9 February, the committee stated: "We are concerned that the Government’s priorities for recovery are heavily gendered in nature.

"Investment plans that are skewed towards male-dominated sectors have the potential to create unequal outcomes for men and women, exacerbating existing inequalities.

"The Treasury must provide Equality Impact Assessments for the Industrial Strategy and ‘New Deal’.

"These should include a Gender Beneficiary Assessment of investments from the industrial strategy to date, including receipts of grants, gender occupational composition of companies operating infrastructure contracts, innovation grants and training participants and outcomes."

Responding to the report, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Women have been put in an impossible situation during the pandemic – often expected to work and look after children at the same time.

“Too many working mums are having to cut their hours or being forced to leave their jobs because they cannot manage.

“If ministers don’t act, women will be pushed out of the labour market. And that means women’s and children’s poverty will soar.

"Unless ministers strengthen rights and support for working parents, women’s equality risks being set back decades.”

O’Grady added: “The government must urgently carry out and publish equality impact assessments of all its policies during this pandemic.

“This crisis, and the government’s response to it, is deepening inequalities for women at work.”

A TUC survey of 52,000 working mothers, published earlier this month, revealed that nine out of 10 had experienced higher levels of anxiety and stress during the latest lockdown.   

Tanni Grey-Thompson  ukactive  Trades Union Congress  TUC  gender gap  
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