A national plan for sport, health and wellbeing Contents

Chapter 1: Introduction and background


1.It is difficult to overstate the positive impact that sport and physical activity has on health and wellbeing. Being more active can lift your mood, make you more resilient to serious illness and improve your quality of life. For many, the challenge, social interaction and enjoyment of sport and physical activity brings significant personal reward. Meanwhile, unhealthy and sedentary lifestyles increase the risk of developing several non-communicable diseases and places a significant burden on the NHS.1 Engaging in sport, recreation and physical activity also benefits society. It promotes social and community cohesion, helps people to develop skills and confidence, can help tackle crime and anti-social behaviour and makes a substantial contribution to the economy.

2.When we talk about sport and physical activity it is important to make a distinction between elite and professional sport, and grassroots sport and physical activity. At the elite and professional level, the UK is world-leading. The Premier League is the most-watched football league in the world, with a cumulative audience of over 3 billion viewers each season and is the pinnacle of professional league sport.2 On the global stage, the UK excels in a range of individual and team competitions and sporting events. Team GB and ParalympicsGB continued its run of success in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic games.

3.The focus of this report is on grassroots sport and physical activity. We are concerned with high rates of inactivity and the impact that this is having on the health and wellbeing of the population, particularly among women, ethnic minorities3, disabled people and those with long-term health conditions, the elderly and people from less affluent backgrounds. We acknowledge that physical activity can play a role in tackling obesity, but we see sport and physical activity as bringing a much wider range of benefits to people’s quality of life. We are interested in how government and the sport and recreation sector can encourage and empower more people to be physically active regardless of their current health status, age, background and ability.

4.Successive governments over decades have tried to address stagnating activity levels with disappointing results. Between 2006 and 2016 and against the backdrop of multiple Government strategies and major initiatives, not least the legacy programme of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games to “inspire a generation”, the proportion of people engaging in sport at least once a week rose by just 1.5 per cent, from 34.6 per cent to 36.1 per cent. Those engaging in sport three or more times a week rose by 1.9 per cent, from 15.6 per cent to 17.5 per cent. Over the same period the number of people volunteering, coaching or officiating in sports declined.4 The latest Active Lives survey for May 2020 to May 2021 shows that 39.1 per cent of adults are active for fewer than 150 minutes each week.5

5.Although the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has overarching responsibility for sport, many Government departments have responsibility for the delivery and provision of opportunities to engage in sport and recreation. As such, this report is not addressed to a single department but to the Government overall. Although grassroots sport, health and education are devolved matters, we hope that this report will be of interest to all nations of the UK.

Box 1: Terminology: recreation, physical activity, sport, active lifestyles and grassroots sport

The UK Chief Medical Officers define physical activity as any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that requires energy expenditure. It takes many forms, occurs in many settings, and has many purposes including daily activity, active recreation and sport.6

For the purposes of this report, we use the terms recreation and physical activity interchangeably to refer to activities that keep people active but which are outside of organised competitive sports. We also take a broad view as to what constitutes ‘recreation’ and would consider any activity that involves physical movement to fall within our definition.

Sport refers to organised competitive games. However, we also recognise that not all sport is played through a formal structure. Witnesses talked about ‘formal’ and ‘informal’ participation in sport and we make use of this distinction in the report where appropriate.

Active lifestyles are lifestyles in which regular physical activity is undertaken in a number of ways in any given day, from recreational activities to walking to work.

Grassroots sport is amateur, non-professional participation in sport and recreation where participants are not compensated for their participation.

Rates of activity and inactivity

6.Since 2016 Sport England has measured activity rates through the Active Lives Adult Survey, which covers those aged 16 and over in England, and the Active Lives Children’s survey covering children in England aged 5–16. The Active Lives surveys for adults and children collect information on activity and inactivity rates and provides breakdowns by gender, socio-economic groups, age, disability and long-term health conditions, and ethnicity. It also collects information on attitudes to physical activity, volunteering, mental wellbeing, individual and community development, and loneliness. We discuss data collection and measuring impact in Chapter 2.

Adult activity rates

7.The survey rates a person who does at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity a week as “active”. A person who does an average of
30–149 minutes per week is considered “fairly active” and anyone who does less than 30 minutes a week is considered “inactive”.

8.The Active Lives surveys show that between May 2016–2017 and May 2020–2021, the percentage of the population who were inactive rose from 25.6 per cent (11.3 million) to 27.5 per cent (12.5 million). The percentage of those who were fairly active fell from 12.4 per cent (5.5 million) to 11.6 per cent (5.3 million) and those who were classified as active fell from 62.1 per cent (27.5 million) to 60.9 per cent (27.8 million).7 The COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on activity rates resulting from national and tiered restrictions introduced since mid-March 2020. During the period of restrictions there was a 1.9 per cent (0.7 million) decrease in the number of adults classified as active and a two per cent increase (1.0 million) in the number of adults classified as inactive.8

Figure 1: Changes in activity levels of adult population

Line graph showing the percentage of the adult population who are Active, Fairly Active and Inactive from May 2016 to May 2021.Source: Sport England, Active Lives Adult Survey May 2020/21 Report (October 2021), p 7: https://sportengland-production-files.s3.eu-west-2.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/2021–10/Active%20Lives%20Adult%20Survey%20May%202020–21%20Report.pdf [accessed 18 November 2021] and Sport England, ‘Active Lives Online’: https://activelives.sportengland.org/Result?queryId=82 [accessed 18 November 2021]

9.Men are more likely to be active than women: 62.3 per cent of men (13.8 million) were active in the year to May 2021, whereas 59.8 per cent of women (13.9 million) were active.9 This gap has remained since the Active Lives surveys began.

Figure 2: Activity rates of men and women

Line graph showing the activity rates of adult men and women who are Active from May 2016 to May 2021. Between May 2019/20 and May 2020/21 male activity dropped by 2.3% and female activity dropped by 1.4%.

Source: Sport England, Active Lives Adult Survey May 2020/21 Report (October 2021), p 10: https://sportengland-production-files.s3.eu-west-2.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/2021–10/Active%20Lives%20Adult%20Survey%20May%202020–21%20Report.pdf [accessed 12 November 2021]

10.There is a clear activity gap between all ethnic groups. The gap is most pronounced for Asian (excluding Chinese) and Black African women. To make matters worse, the pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on ethnic minorities which has widened the gap.

Figure 3: Activity rates of adults across ethnic groups

Bar chart showing the activity rates of adults across ethnic groups who are Active.

Source: Sport England, Active Lives Adult Survey May 2020/21 Report (October 2021), p 20: https://sportengland-production-files.s3.eu-west-2.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/2021–10/Active%20Lives%20Adult%20Survey%20May%202020–21%20Report.pdf [accessed 12 November 2021]

11.Activity rates decline with age, with the lowest activity levels found among those aged 75 and over. The number of those aged 75 and over who are active rose from 33.9 per cent (1.5 million) in the May 2016–2017 Active Lives survey to 37.8 per cent (1.8 million) in the May 2020–2021 survey.10 There is also a significant cross-over between age and disability. Around 44 per cent of those aged 65 or over reported having at least one disability in 2018–19.11 Among older people the most common disability is mobility issues. Activity rates for older people, disabled people and those living with long-term health conditions fell during the pandemic and this may be linked to the number of people in these groups that were required to shield during the first lockdown.12

Figure 4: Activity levels of adults with and without a disability or long-term health condition

Line graph showing the activity levels of adults with and without a disability or long-term health condition who are Active.

Source: Sport England, Active Lives Adult Survey May 2020/21 Report (October 2021), p 18: https://sportengland-production-files.s3.eu-west-2.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/2021–10/Active%20Lives%20Adult%20Survey%20May%202020–21%20Report.pdf [accessed 12 November 2021]

12.People in higher socio-economic groups are more likely to be active than those in lower socio-economic groups. Activity levels among those from high and mid-affluent economic groups recorded drops between May 2020 to May 2021.13 Although there was no evident significant impact on physical activity rates for those in the least affluent groups over the pandemic, there has been a decline in physical rates since 2016.14

Figure 5: Activity levels of adults across socio-economic groups

Bar chart showing the activity levels of adults across socio-economic groups who are Active.

Source: Sport England, Active Lives Adult Survey May 2020/21 Report (October 2021), p 12: https://sportengland-production-files.s3.eu-west-2.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/2021–10/Active%20Lives%20Adult%20Survey%20May%202020–21%20Report.pdf [accessed 12 November 2021]

Children activity rates

13.Data collected for the most recent Active Lives Children and Young People’s Survey cover the academic year 2019–20.15 It collects information on activity rates by age group, gender, socio-economic group, ethnicity and disability and long-term health conditions. A child is “active” if they complete an average of at least 60 minutes a day of at least moderate intensity activity. Those who achieve an average of 30–59 minutes a day are “fairly active” and those completing less than an average of 30 minutes a day are considered “less active”.16

14.The Active Lives Children’s survey for the 2019–20 academic year survey shows that 44.9 per cent of children (3.2 million) are active, 23.8 per cent (1.7 million) are fairly active and 31.3 per cent (2.3 million) are less active. A lot of the trends seen in the Active Lives Adult Survey are found in the children’s survey. Boys are more likely to be active than girls, children from higher socio-economic groups are more likely to be active than those from lower socio-economic groups, and children from ethnic minority backgrounds are more likely to be less active than children of ‘White British’ or ‘White Other’ backgrounds. However, activity levels amongst children and young people with a disability or long-term health condition were at the same level as other children.

Figure 6: Activity levels of children and young people with and without a disability or long-term health condition

Bar chart showing the activity levels of children and young people with and without a disability or long-term health condition who are Active in the year 2019/20.

Source: Sport England, Active Lives Children and Young People Survey Academic year 2019/20 (January 2021), p 11: https://sportengland-production-files.s3.eu-west-2.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/2021-01/Active%20Lives%20Children%20Survey%20Academic%20Year%2019-20%20report.pdf [accessed 12 November 2021]

Figure 7: Levels of activity in children across ethnic groups

Source: Sport England, Active Lives Children and Young People Survey Academic year 2019/20 (January 2021), p 12: https://sportengland-production-files.s3.eu-west-2.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/2021–01/Active%20Lives%20Children%20Survey%20Academic%20Year%2019–20%20report.pdf [accessed 12 November 2021]

Impact of COVID-19

15.It is hard to imagine anything that could have highlighted the scale and immediacy of the challenge to get more people active than a global pandemic. Between 13 March 2020 and 29 November 2021 there were over 144,000 recorded deaths in England in which the person had tested positive for COVID-19 in the preceding 28 days.17 There is an overlap between those groups hardest hit by the pandemic and those less likely to be active. For example, mortality rates from COVID-19 have been higher among those with pre-existing health conditions, the elderly, disabled people, people from lower socio-economic backgrounds and ethnic minorities. The impact of COVID-19 on these groups has exacerbated existing health inequalities.18

16.Organised sport was suspended and facilities, including gyms, pools and leisure centres, were closed as part of the Government’s COVID-19 restrictions. Activity rates, which had been on a modest upward trajectory, declined and levels of anxiety and inactivity increased. Major sporting events were cancelled to the disappointment of fans and to the financial cost of organisers and staff.

17.However, even during times of restrictions, many people found alternative ways to stay active. Parks and other green spaces remained open and activities such as walking, cycling and running all increased during the pandemic. There was also a surge in demand for online classes, exercise apps and other technology solutions to help people stay fit and motivated.19

18.Several witnesses made observations about the impact of the pandemic on sport and recreation. For example, Matt Hughes, Chief Sports Reporter at the Daily Mail, drew attention to the impact on people from lower socio-economic groups.20 Anna Kessel, Women’s Sports Editor at The Telegraph, told us that, at the elite level, women’s sports and Paralympic athletes have suffered disproportionately.21 Matt Hughes and Anna Kessel both expressed concern that children’s physical activity had not been prioritised enough during the pandemic.22

19.Utilita Energy, publishers of the 2020 State of Play and 2021 Final Whistle reports, expressed concern around the impact of the pandemic for grassroots football clubs including the financial impact on “already underfunded and ill-maintained” facilities.23 Jordan Jarrett-Bryan, Sports Reporter for Channel 4 News, told us that the impact of COVID-19 had shone a spotlight on the poor suitability and sustainability of some financial and business models being used in sport.24

Scope of the inquiry and structure of the report

20.This Committee was appointed in October 2020 “to examine the current state of sport and recreation policy in the UK and consider the creation of a National Plan for Sport and Recreation”.25 Early on we moved from an emphasis on sport to health and wellbeing and active lifestyles, of which sport is just one component. This has led us to consider a wider range of themes related to physical activity and how we can embed activity in our daily lives. On the creation of a national plan, we have kept an open mind throughout this inquiry about whether one was required. Our conclusion, that a coherent national plan is necessary, has arisen from the evidence we have heard.

21.Although COVID-19 restrictions precluded us from travelling or having in-person sessions, we have strived to talk to as many people as possible. In addition to our virtual public evidence sessions, we held a series of virtual roundtable sessions. The first of these was with grassroots organisations working in local communities. The second session was with secondary school students from New College Leicester and St Aidan’s Church of England High School, Harrogate. The third session was with primary and secondary school PE teachers. Our fourth session was with disabled young adults. We also held an online roundtable with CEOs of sports NGBs and sector experts.

22.The UK is not alone in grappling with the challenges of inactivity and poor health and we also sought to learn from international experience. We are grateful to Hon. Grant Robertson, Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand, Minister for Sport and Recreation and Finance Minister, for giving evidence to us. We are also grateful to Mads Andreassen, Head of Activity Development at the Norwegian Sports Confederation, Dr Josef Fahlén, then Associate Professor at Umeå University, Sweden, and Dr Eivind Å Skille, Professor of Sport Sociology, Faculty of Social and Health Sciences, Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences, Norway, for sharing their knowledge and experience of delivering sport and recreation in Sweden and Norway.

23.We heard from 76 witnesses in public evidence sessions and received 163 pieces of written evidence in addition to the roundtable sessions we held. We would like to thank everyone who contributed to this inquiry. We would also like to thank our specialist adviser, Dr Chris Mackintosh, who provided invaluable guidance and advice throughout the inquiry.

24.This report comprises seven chapters, including this introduction, and is structured as follows.

25.In Chapter 2 we set out the case for a national plan for sport, health and wellbeing. We consider delivery and funding structures in the sector and examine the collection of data and how we monitor and evaluate impact.

26.In Chapter 3 we consider key principles underpinning the national plan: physical literacy, welcoming and inclusive participation, tackling health inequalities, behaviour change, and sport for development.

27.In Chapter 4 we look at ways to make sport fun and enjoyable, the delivery of PE and the PE and Sport Premium, ways for children to be active throughout the school day and links between schools, clubs and communities.

28.In Chapter 5 we focus on enabling active lifestyles including creating active environments, promoting active travel and supporting the role of technology.

29.In Chapter 6 we focus on duty of care and safeguarding and the conditions necessary to create a safe and welcoming environment for people of all backgrounds, ages and abilities.

30.In the final chapter we consider the crucial role of the workforce, coaches and volunteers. We look at careers in the sport and recreation sector, the role of coaches and volunteers, the case for a national register of coaches and issues around improving diversity.

1 Public Health England, Everybody active, every day (October 2014), p 7: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/374914/Framework_13.pdf [accessed 12 November 2021]

2 Premier League, ‘Premier League global audience on the rise’ (16 July 2019): https://www.premierleague.com/news/1280062 [accessed 25 November 2021]

3 We use the term ‘ethnic minorities’ in this report to refer to all ethnic groups except the White British group. We have retained the term BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) when quoting evidence from witnesses.

4 Sport England, ‘Active People Interactive’: https://activepeople.sportengland.org/ [accessed 12 November 2021]

5 The Active People’s Survey ran from 2006 and was replaced by the Active Lives Survey in 2016. Due to different metrics and methodologies used for each survey, it is not possible to compare these two data sets. Sport England, Active Lives Adult Survey May 2020/21 Report (October 2021), p 6: https://sportengland-production-files.s3.eu-west-2.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/2021–10/Active%20Lives%20Adult%20Survey%20May%202020–21%20Report.pdf [accessed 12 November 2021]

6 DHSC, Welsh Government, Department of Health Northern Ireland, and the Scottish Government, UK Chief Medical Officers’ Physical Activity Guidelines (7 September 2019), p 14: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/832868/uk-chief-medical-officers-physical-activity-guidelines.pdf [accessed 12 November 2021]

7 Sport England, Active Lives Online

9 Ibid., p 10

10 Sport England, Active Lives Adult Survey May 2020/21 Report, p 16 and Sport England, ‘Active Lives survey query builder’: https://activelives.sportengland.org/Result?queryId=7027 [accessed 12 November 2021]

11 Department for Work and Pensions, Family Resources Survey 2018/19 (26 March 2020), p 1: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/874507/family-resources-survey-2018–19.pdf [accessed 12 November 2021]

13 In the Sport England Active Lives survey, “high affluent groups” refers to those in National Statistics Socio-economic (NS-SEC) groups 1–2, “mid affluent groups” refers to those in NS-SEC groups 3–5, and “least affluent” groups refers to those in NS-SEC groups 6–8.

15 The survey notes that collection was interrupted by the closure of schools during the first lockdown.

16 Sport England, Active Lives Children and Young People Survey Academic year 2019/20 (January 2021), pp 4–5: https://sportengland-production-files.s3.eu-west-2.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/2021–01/Active%20Lives%20Children%20Survey%20Academic%20Year%2019–20%20report.pdf [accessed 12 November 2021]

17 HM Government, ‘Deaths in the United Kingdom’: https://coronavirus.data.gov.uk/details/deaths [accessed 29 November 2021]

18 NHS, ‘Action required to tackle health inequalities in latest phase of COVID-19 response and recovery’: https://www.england.nhs.uk/about/equality/equality-hub/action-required-to-tackle-health-inequalities-in-latest-phase-of-covid-19-response-and-recovery [accessed 12 November 2021]

19 Sport England, Active Lives Adult Survey November 2019/20 Report (April 2021): https://sportengland-production-files.s3.eu-west-2.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/2021–04/Active%20Lives%20Adult%20November%202019–20%20Report.pdf [accessed 15 November 2021]

20 Q 41 (Matt Hughes)

21 Q 41 (Anna Kessel)

22 Q 42 (Matt Hughes and Anna Kessel)

23 Written evidence from Utilita Energy (NPS0143)

24 Q 41 (Jordan Jarrett-Bryan)

25 Liaison Committee, New special inquiry committees 2020–21 (2nd Report, Session 2019–21, HL Paper 102)

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