Disability Rights UK (DR UK) is a national organisation led by Disabled people. Our vision is a world where Disabled people have equal rights, opportunities, and access to power.
Our work is rooted in the lived experience of Disabled people. For over five years, DR UK has delivered the Get Yourself Active programme, working to increase Disabled people’s participation in sport and physical activity so that everyone can experience its benefits. To date, we have supported almost 100 organisations and groups of Disabled people to provide high-quality physical activity for Disabled people across the country.
For this response, we worked with Disabled People’s Organisations, groups of Disabled People and individual Disabled people with lived experience and interest in physical activity.
There is a huge gulf between the proportion of Disabled people and the proportion of non-disabled people who get active. A key barrier is that Disabled people are not receiving the care and support they need to be involved.
Sport England research has found that 16.2% of Disabled people strongly agree that ‘I feel I have the opportunity to be physically active’, compared to 38.3% of non-disabled people.1 At Disability Rights UK, we are acutely aware of the current conditions of social care and support, meaning that few Disabled people can be as active as they would like.
Insight from Sport England showed that Disabled people from lower socioeconomic groups are less likely to be physically active than Disabled people from higher socioeconomic groups (43% vs. 29%).
We believe that although some of the actions proposed are commendable and may positively impact the lives of Disabled people, they are insufficient to the mounting barriers that prevent us from being active in the ways we want. For any of them to succeed, local authorities require a significant funding increase to deliver high-quality, inclusive opportunities for Disabled people.
We also recognise that the plan does not mention tackling intersectional barriers to participation, particularly those faced by Disabled people of colour or from other marginalised backgrounds. The plan proposes very little to impact those with complex impairments, such as Deaf-Blind people, who experience serious barriers limiting participation.
Provide a funding uplift for better quality experiences and inclusive opportunities for Disabled Children and Young People to be physically active within and outside schools.
The latest research shows that 2.1 million (29%) of all children are active for less than 30 minutes a day and that only one in four Disabled children participate in sports and physical activity all the time at school.
The figures are alarming, and we repeatedly hear that the barriers of a lack of suitable activities and high costs prevent Disabled children from being active.
There are many immediate actions the Disability unit could work with the Department for Education on, which would ensure a direct impact on the activity levels of Disabled children and young people:
Ensure that those who care are positioned to promote physical activity and sports to Disabled people.
Research shows that most Disabled people want to be more active but are prevented by the barriers they face in society. Seventy-five per cent of Disabled people reported ‘not knowing what was available as the main barrier to participating in physical activity.
Joint research between DR UK and Durham University identified social workers and carers as key messengers in promoting physical activity. If they understand more about the importance of physical activity and what they can do, they will be better placed to support a Disabled person to lead a more active life.
There are many immediate actions the Disability unit could work with the Department of Health and Social Care and the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities, which would ensure a direct impact:
Make immediate changes to the social security system to protect Disabled people and give us the support we need to be active.
According to the Activity Alliance, two-thirds (65%) of Disabled people rely on benefits to be active. The social security system is so important that we can afford the travel to venues or paid-for exercise and specialist equipment we need to be involved. Many of the welfare reforms from the past decade, including the introduction of employment and support allowance, the work capability assessment, personal independence payment, the bedroom tax, the benefit cap, the two-child limit, and universal credit, have negatively impacted Disabled people.
We have lost average benefit payments of around £1,200 each year due to these changes. Non-disabled people have seen a reduction of around £300. For anyone, a reduction in financial support can be detrimental. But for Disabled people, who already face average extra disability-related costs of £950 each month, the loss of money can be devastating. Furthermore, a fear of losing benefits prevents Disabled people from being more active, with almost half (47%) of Disabled people surveyed by Activity Alliance admitting they fear losing their benefits if they are seen to be more active.6
To counter this, the Disability Unit could work with the Department of Work and Pensions to:
Develop a co-produced research strategy to identify and break the intersectional barriers that affect activity levels.
We know that there are unique challenges faced by Disabled individuals because of various systems of oppression, including disablism, racism, and heterosexism, which interact and contribute to widening disparities in physical activity.
The disability unit must support the formation of equitable partnerships across government departments by dismantling oppressive structures and hierarchies, ensuring that Disabled individuals themselves drive the research process. A transformative approach must address physical activity inequities by integrating intersectionality through co-production, [where disabled individuals with multiple intersecting identities are given equal decision-making power], empowering disabled individuals to lead and shape the research addressing their unique challenges and aspirations.