StreetGames chief warns of health time bomb as cost-of-living crisis worsens inequality in youth sport

  • Family finances top the list of worries for under 25s in lower-income households
  • Almost two in five not taking part in sport because they can’t afford it
  • Over one third (35%) say the cost-of-living crisis has negatively impacted how much they take part in physical activity

New research revealed today by StreetGames, the UK charity that aims to transform the lives of young people in low-income, underserved communities through sport and physical activity, paints an alarming picture. Over one third (35%) of those polled state that the cost-of-living crisis has had a negative impact on how much they take part in sport and exercise, whilst not being able to afford it was named the top barrier to taking part — cited by 39% of those surveyed.

Meanwhile, 40% named their or their family’s finances and the cost-of-living as their number one worry, ahead of concerns about school or college (39%) and their mental health (35%).

There is broad awareness amongst young people of the wide range of benefits — physical, social, and mental — that exercise brings, but only 25% of young people in lower-income households spend their spare time playing sport, despite as many as 72% say they enjoy taking part.

Mark Lawrie, CEO of StreetGames said: “We’re sitting on a physical and mental health time bomb. As a direct result of the cost-of-living crisis, not enough young people in lower-income households are getting the opportunity to take part in sport in their spare time, despite three-quarters of them telling us they would like to do more. We need urgent action.”

Whilst activity costs are clearly the main barrier, they are not the only issue — the cost of travel, concerns about not having the right kit or equipment, anxieties about how ‘sporty’ they consider themselves to be and feeling self-conscious, all prevent young people from doing sport and physical activity.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to rectifying the issue, and it’s important to listen directly to young people to better understand their feelings and motivations. Seven youth segments have emerged from the research that capture the motivators, barriers, and associated emotions that young people experience in relation to sport.

From those who play sport to release stress to those who would love to do more, but anxiety and self-confidence holds them back, the segments are essential to understanding how to get young people active and address inequality of access — a personalised and collaborative approach is a must.

StreetGames CEO Mark Lawrie added: “We fully support Sport England, Sport Wales and the Department for Culture, Media & Sport who have both prioritised the need to tackle inequalities. We’re calling for the government and policy makers to accelerate their ambitions and ensure that public funding directly strengthens the capacity of local communities to deliver affordable and accessible sport and physical activity on the doorstep of those who need it most. We want to see clear accountability to ensure the strategy delivers.”

Unfairly missing out goes beyond the physical and mental health benefits that sport brings. These young people are missing the chance to develop crucial life skills like teamwork and confidence, which will have huge human and economic ramifications.

Getting this right has the potential to significantly benefit many areas of society and wider public policy. Investing in community sport has been shown to deliver a four-fold benefit — every £1 spent generates nearly £4 in return across health and wellbeing, strengthening communities and the economy.

The research provides recommendations on how best to rectify this inequality, and those looking for more information or advice can head to

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