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Active Lives Report – October 2021

The Get Yourself Active team explores what the latest Active Lives survey means for the many Disabled people who struggle to access sport and physical activity. This piece looks at the barriers highlighted in the report and how we may overcome them together.

Last week, Sport England, the arms-length body of government responsible for growing and developing grassroots sport and getting more people active across England, released their latest Active Lives Adult Survey. It spans the period from mid-May 2020 to mid-May 2021, including periods of national and tiered restrictions introduced to counter the coronavirus pandemic.

The results are stark and worrying. Put simply, Disabled people are not getting active, and the deficit between activity levels of Disabled and non-Disabled people continues to widen. We’ve gotten together to read the report and draw out key takeaways and possible learnings from it as a team, which you can find in the piece below.

Stark results

Just like the recent Active at Home research undertaken by Get Yourself Active (which you can view here), the active lives survey shows that Disabled people struggled to get active during the pandemic, with activity levels dropping. Only 45% of Disabled people describe themselves as being active compared to 66% of non-Disabled people.

The report highlights critical deficits in the provision of Disabled people’s access to sport and physical activity. However, it is encouraging that there are signs that activity levels for Disabled people are beginning to increase.

There is a real worry there hasn’t been equal progress across all communities, with Disabled people and people with long term health conditions not seeing the same uptick as those without. Activity level for Disabled people or those with long-term health conditions saw no recovery across mid-March to mid-May 2021, compared to the first total lockdown during the same period in 2020 – remaining 7.1% down on 2019.

This activity gap between Disabled people and non-Disabled people had started to narrow pre-pandemic, so seeing it widen again is troubling. We urgently need to somehow get back on track to where we were with the progress that we have made.


As Lydia Bone, Programme Manager at Get Yourself Active, explains:

“The Active Lives survey from Sport England shows the continued widening inequalities for underrepresented groups, including Disabled people.”

“It brings home the truth that although things were getting better before the pandemic, Disabled people have been disproportionally impacted by the pandemic and continue to face more barriers than before.”

Finally, the report is essential reading for society more widely. It clearly shows that sport and physical activity is more than just a “health” concern for Disabled people (just as it is for non-Disabled people). Sport England’s research shows that getting active is a crucial driver of social activity for Disabled people.

Loneliness is higher among Disabled people or those with a long-term health condition compared to non-Disabled people. This sadly increases further for those with three or more impairments. Across mid-November to mid-May, increases in loneliness have been more significant among Disabled people or long-term health conditions. Another reason why returning to community sport and physical activity is vital for many.”

How do we move forward?

Much more work needs to be done to tackle inequalities that create barriers for underrepresented groups. Get Yourself Active is working hard on an Equality, Diversity & Inclusion plan that addresses how our organisation can come together to tackle inequalities across the sector.

Furthermore, the report also stresses the importance of positive messaging around physical activity. During the first lockdown, positive messaging encouraged everyone to keep moving, combined with the increased availability and promotion of digital and at home’ opportunities to be active. This positive messaging needs to continue – physical activity is still as important as ever, and it is about much more than health.

Although the barriers that prevent Disabled access to sport and physical activity are coming down, progress has been too slow. Lydia and the team have ideas about how we can rectify the issues the report brings to light. “The report shows the continued importance of organisations working collaboratively to tackle these inequalities and the sport sector ensuring they are flexible in their approach.”

“Co-production and working in partnership with Disabled people is essential to increase opportunities and ensure that Disabled people are not left behind. Disabled people deserve more, and we want to see this change happen quickly.”