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How rising cost of living is impacting sport and physical activity

Today’s new report considers what the impact has been on activity levels and the wider sector as a whole.

11th January 2024

We’ve published a new report that examines how the rising cost of living is impacting the sport and physical activity sector.

The rising cost of living and its impact on sport and physical activity’ has been produced in conjunction with Sheffield Hallam University and is intended to help activity providers understand the impact cost of living is having on their participants.

Rising living costs in England have been caused by various factors such as the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, the war in Ukraine, supply chain problems and higher interest rates, as well as inflation and low wage growth.

A man and a woman cycle on a canal towpath

The report found:

  • Participation rates in physical activity have remained stable compared to pre-Covid levels.
  • The increased cost of living has led to people changing their behaviours in relation to activity, and these changes are unlikely to be reversed until household finances improve.
  • People from the most deprived areas and from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are more likely to say their levels of physical activity have been negatively affected by cost-of-living increases.
  • Club activities are nearing pre-Covid levels, but cost pressures, especially from rising energy prices, affect club finances which in turn, is making access less affordable for some.
  • Some facility providers are reporting concerns regarding increases in utility costs and are responding by reducing sessions and increasing fees.

Cost of living pressures are also having an impact on the sport and physical activity workforce:

  • Some people are volunteering less due to time constrains, meaning that other people are volunteering more due to demand.
  • Paid staff, especially those with low wages or in casual positions, are leaving for better opportunities elsewhere, while some employers are considering redundancies and closures due to budget constraints.

Nick Pontefract, our chief strategy officer, said today’s publication demonstrated how the cost of living was changing the way some people are choosing to engage with sport and physical activity.

“Today’s report shows that in common with much of the economy, the cost of living is impacting on affordability of physical activity and sport particularly for the most disadvantaged,” he said.

While these headwinds inevitably impact all areas of life including work to increase physical activity and participation, the sector has been remarkably resilient and creative in sustaining opportunities for people to keep active.

"We also know there are plenty of low and no cost options for getting active, whether that's running for free with parkrun, using outdoor gym equipment that can be found in many parks or simply going for a walk.

“At Sport England, we’re doing everything we can to support the sector through this time.

"This includes managing the Government-funded Swimming Pool Support Fund, a £60 million package to help keep public leisure facilities with swimming pools open, while we recently announced a £250m expansion into our place partnerships.

"This money is specifically aimed at the places with the greatest need, and where the impact of cost-of-living pressures will be most pronounced."

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