Deputy Minister for Arts and Sport responds to report into participation in sport in disadvantaged areas
On Wednesday, the Deputy Minister for Arts and Sport, Dawn Bowden MS, responded as the Senedd debated the Culture, Communications, Welsh Language, Sport and International Relations Committee’s report, ‘Levelling the playing field: A report on participation in sport and physical activity in disadvantaged areas’.
The report comes as the ongoing economic effects from the COVID-19 pandemic are being compounded by the cost-of-living crisis we find ourselves in, only stretching the financial inequalities highlighted over the past couple years.
A recent report in the Bevan Foundation’s Snapshot of Poverty in Wales series contained some worrying findings; nearly a third of households in Wales (32%) manage to cover essential costs but don’t have enough money for much else, while a startling one in eight households (13%) struggle to afford everyday items.
Meanwhile, 43% of those surveyed in that report said that their mental health had suffered due to their financial position, while 30% confirmed that their physical health had deteriorated for the same reason.
Of course, it is those who struggled for access to opportunities before that are feeling the pinch. This stark reality is making sport and physical activity a luxury rather than a necessity for growing numbers of families, and diminishing participation in sport right across Wales.
The Culture, Communications, Welsh Language, Sport, and International Relations Committee’s report highlighted this fact, reporting a variety of barriers the prevent participation in sport.
Age, gender, geography, disability, ethnicity, cost of living, socioeconomics, facilities, volunteering and staff and even role models were all factors considered when determining the reasons for which participation is reduced in certain areas of the country.
For example, Professor Melitta McNarry from Swansea University told the committee that she’d seen some information that showed the average amount spent on sport and physical activity in deprived areas was £1.50 per week compared with £10 in more affluent areas.
Meanwhile, one coach stated:
“I think we will see a huge amount of issues from the cost of living crisis. What comes first, do you eat or do you play rugby? £15 is huge for some families, kids travelling to away games – petrol costs are huge. It’s bound to have a lasting effect.”
Another interviewee pointed out difficulties in the varying socioeconomic status of participants:
“We play some clubs from the more affluent areas who have both parents and grandparents there an hour early. Our kids don’t have that luxury; it’s like we need a culture change in society.”
The account of Mojeid Ilyas, Diverse Communities Development Officer at Cricket Wales, explained that finding safe space due to cultural and religious reasons can pose a barrier, especially amongst women’s cricket in ethnic minority communities.
Women and girls also face barriers to participation due to the lack of suitable facilities, for example.
“It’s their basic needs aren’t catered for in the facilities,” explained one interviewee. “There is nothing that tells a young girl that she doesn’t belong in football than walking into a changing room and there are five stinking urinals and maybe one seated toilet where the lock doesn’t work and the toilet seat is falling off and there are no sanitary bins. Girls are telling us that when they’re on their period, they won’t be going to training or they won’t be playing football.”
Other factors – from the loss of dedicated volunteers as a result of the pandemic and cost-of-living crisis to poor transport links for participants to get to and from facilities – in the report paint a stark picture for participation in disadvantaged areas with the need for action.
Of the committee’s 12 recommendations in the report, the Welsh Government accepted five, accepted three in principle, and rejected four . Find all of the recommendations here.
Deputy Minister Dawn Bowden, during the debate on the report, commented:
“Sport has clearly a significant contribution to make in delivering our programme for government, with its reach and influence extending beyond the specific commitments on enhancing equal access, improving participation and building on our provision of sporting facilities across the country. In this context, working with Sport Wales, we will continue to lead the sector and encourage collaboration to nurture and facilitate a population increase in physical activity and to invest effort and resources where it is needed most—where there are significant variations in participation and where there is a lack of opportunity or aspiration to be active.”
Dawn Bowden expressed her understanding of the committee’s disappointment at the number of recommendations rejected by the Welsh Government, but reassured that it was not necessarily because of disagreement with its findings. She went on to give reasoning for Welsh Government’s rejection of four of the recommendations.
The Deputy Minister explained that she was not convinced that a new, wholesale approach to participation in sport (as set out in the committee’s first recommendation), as “Sport Wales’s vision and strategy for sport in Wales was, and continues to be, developed by the sector through an extensive consultation.”
Dawn Bowden went onto broadly explain the Welsh Government’s rejection some of the other of the committee’s recommendations:
“Several of the recommendations touched on funding,” she continued. “It’s worth pointing out that the majority of Welsh Government funding for sport is of course channelled through Sport Wales. I expect them to use their funding, and the funding that they receive via the National Lottery, to deliver the objectives set out in the term of Government remit letter, but it is also about the effective use of funding that is allocated to them.
“It’s worth repeating that we intend to invest more than £75 million over the next three years for Sport Wales to deliver those aims and objectives. This is in addition to support through other Welsh Government funding programmes, such as sustainable communities for learning and the community facilities programme.
“We’re also investing over £13 million in a range of programmes across 2022-24 as part of our delivery plan for our Healthy Weight: Healthy Wales strategy. But of course, funding isn’t solely a Welsh Government responsibility—sources such as the National Lottery, prize money from major tournaments and local authority budgets also have a role to play in providing support for disadvantaged communities.”
Dawn Bowden also picked up on the committee’s recommendations on improving access to school and community facilities:
“Members will be aware that the Minister for Education and Welsh Language has announced £24.9 million to support schools to operate and develop as community-focused schools, reaching out to engage with families and pupils, particularly those disadvantaged by poverty. This includes £20 million of capital investment to allow schools to develop further as community assets.”
Following the Deputy Minister’s speech, Chair of the Culture, Communications, Welsh Language, Sport and International Relations Committee, Delyth Jewell MS, mentioned in her closing statement the worrying situation surrounding the maintenance of facilities and energy costs – a situation currently posing existential challenges to the sport and leisure sector:
“(Carolyn Thomas MS) spoke about the strain that energy costs are having on the industry, especially swimming pools, which (Jenny Rathbone MS) had raised as well.
“Opening up facilities, I hope, will make a difference to levelling the playing field, but, as Jenny had talked about, there really is an ongoing acutely worrying issue with swimming pools — it’s something that the committee will be keenly following. This really is a vital concern. As you were saying, this is an essential life skill.”
The Chair of the committee concluded:
“Everyone is aware that living a healthier and more energetic way of life has other great impacts, in terms of life expectancy, mental health, socioeconomic opportunities and educational attainment.
“There is evidence that the ways of living that we develop when we are children are likely to continue into adulthood. For these reasons, ensuring that we have fair play in terms of sports participation in Wales could have a dramatic impact on the lives of people from disadvantaged areas, and I would ask the Welsh Government to pay attention to our recommendations.”
The Welsh Sports Association (WSA) will continue to engage with the committee and Members of the Senedd to follow up the report and recommendations – in particular, we will be keeping members informed on the cost of living challenges currently facing the sector.
View the full debate and find the full transcript on the Senedd website.