Fears young people are being ‘priced out of sport’

The Youth Sport Trust responds to the Government’s budget announcements released on Friday.

The squeeze on family finances and school budgets over the coming months could have disastrous consequences for young people’s health and wellbeing.

As revealed in the recent Good Childhood report, 85% of parents and carers are concerned about the impact of the cost-of-living increases on their family and 27% have struggled with the cost of PE or sports kit over the last year. It is becoming increasingly evident that without urgent action some young people are at very real risk of being priced out of sport and physical activity altogether, with dire consequences for not only their health and wellbeing, but also their education and wider life chances.

Young people from less affluent backgrounds, those with disabilities and young carers are already less likely to lead active lives and enjoy sport. The cost-of-living crisis could compound this for precisely those young people who may benefit the most from the life changing impact of play and sport. Equally, we know many of the mental health issues being presented by young people today are preventable, yet hardly any of policy and investment is about prevention. We absolutely must get upstream of the issues, and value the proven role targeted physical activity and sport interventions can play in building self-esteem and resilience, improving mood state and reducing anxiety, and fostering healthy relationships and a sense of self worth.

Young Minds revealed only today through new research that children are not learning due to their declining mental health. This echoes calls we have made in our new Inspiring Changemakers, Building Belonging strategy. When children have access to PE, play and sport they are happy, and when they are happy they achieve more.

It has never been more essential to ensure that every child has a universal entitlement to purposeful physical activity in the school day, at least 2 hours per week of PE as part of the curriculum and the opportunity to enjoy free sport and physical activity as part of an extended school day.

As financial hardship deepens and impacts on more families, parents are preparing to cut back on paid-for after-school activities like sport clubs to make ends meet. Schools, struggling with rising inflation and uncertainty about the cost of their energy bills for the rest of the school year, are likely to cut back on support staff and limit the use of facilities like swimming pools, sports halls and floodlit playing fields.

According to Sport England and Swim England, 39% of sport facilities in England are on school or educational sites, including 76% of sports halls and 30% of swimming pools.

It’s time for the tide to be turned on the cuts which have seen 42,000 hours of PE lost from secondary school timetables over the past decade and more after school sport being run as a paid for childcare service.

Our charity is responding by offering support for both families and schools with the aim of keeping children playing. For families, we will continue to provide free resources and share low cost solutions from other providers and retailers through our online family hub.  

For schools, we will share how other education settings are responding to the challenges arising from this crisis. We will use indices of deprivation to target more of our programmes, and seek new partnerships and charitable donations to allow us to offer more fully funded and low cost opportunities.

It is important that the voices of schools and families who are hit hardest by this crisis are represented. We will continue to listen to our beneficiaries and work hard to influence policy and other decision makers who can help address some of the inequalities in access, opportunity and impact of play and sport on young lives.  

A bold and proactive decision by the government is needed to harness the power of play and sport, as is investment in provision at all levels of education to make tangible difference. Confirming the future of current levels of investment would be a substantial win for schools, allowing them to plan for the year ahead and offering the nation longer-term strategy to the crisis being faced today. 

Children only get one childhood. Now would be the perfect time for a national focus on the importance of young people’s health and wellbeing, and the role of sport and physical activity in supporting their readiness and engagement in learning. Unhappy, unhealthy children don’t learn, and we risk storing up issues which will lead to even greater challenges and cost in the long term.

Published on 26 September 2022