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House of Lords Hansard
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Sport England: Female Activity
09 March 2020
Volume 802

Question

Tabled by

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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact of Sport England’s “This Girl Can” campaign since 2015 on activity levels of females of all ages.

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My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lady Sater, and with her permission, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in her name on the Order Paper.

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My Lords, we are determined to encourage more women and girls to get active and break down the barriers that prevent them from doing so, something that we set out in our sports strategy, Sporting Future. This Girl Can is a ground-breaking campaign, encouraging women to get active regardless of shape, size and ability. It has already inspired 3.9 million women to take part since its launch in 2015.

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I thank my noble friend for her Answer. This weekend, to celebrate International Women’s Day, This Girl Can teamed up with parkrun to encourage more women and girls across the country to take part in physical activity. Initiatives such as this have increased women’s activity levels, but the same statistics show that participation in sport remains static. What are the Government doing to address this?

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As my noble friend said, This Girl Can plays an important part in inspiring women aged 16 to 60 to be active, and almost 122,000 more women are active today compared with 2015-16. However, we do not want to dictate to women how they should be active. Rather, we want them to have access to the right opportunities locally and the right environment. Sport England is investing over £240 million in the national governing bodies of sport to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to participate in the sport that is right for them. We also know that it is very important for girls to be active from an early age, so there is £320 million from the sports premium to encourage this in primary schools.

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My Lords, the Question before us is not only ground-breaking but—let me confess it—in my case, mind-breaking, for I knew little about this campaign, and wish that I had. I congratulate all those who are making these things work, as well as the recent advertising campaign that is prepared to honestly and openly show women and girls who are not, shall we say, built like gold medal winners at the Olympic Games. People of all shapes and sizes are in the publicity doing the exercise that they need to, and that is brilliant. Also, those tender and difficult aspects of a woman’s life—

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It is in the publicity, I am only quoting—it is the menopause and the menstrual cycle, but they are honestly portrayed in the advertising too. I wonder, therefore, in view of the fact that I have known so little about it, whether the Government could put some effort into persuading those who run this campaign to take more of us into the secret of what is happening, and make the publicity a bit more widespread.

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I am delighted that the noble Lord finds the campaign compelling and has learned from it; I think that will be true for many of us. The Government have supported the campaign substantially through Sport England, and in addition to the increase in the number of women engaged in sport, 16,000 organisations have registered as supporters and over three-quarters of a million women are active members of the online community.

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My Lords, I commend each iteration of this campaign, because it has challenged stereotypes, especially around women being affected by their period. But can the Minister explain what Her Majesty’s Government are doing to measure participation rates among disabled women? Often, disabled people experience multiple barriers to participation and inclusion, not least according to research by the Activity Alliance, which shows that many disabled people are worried about being seen as being too active, and therefore having their impairment and their benefits questioned.

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The noble Baroness is quite right that disability can be a barrier to an active life and participation in sport in particular. Sport England is working with health and social care charities on the We Are Undefeatable campaign for those with long-term health conditions, 44% of whom have taken action. In the latest Active Lives survey, the group with the biggest increase in participation were those over 61. I know that there can be many barriers; I met a young woman in Yorkshire on Friday who plays blind cricket for England, and the barrier for her was transport to the station to be able to go and train. Barriers exist in many different shapes and sizes.

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My Lords, the This Girl Can campaign has shattered stereotypes and changed the way we look at all of this. For that it must be commended and I hope it will continue to get support. Are the Government using this campaign to get out their whole message on public health and information, because they have something here that has worked and is surely applicable to everybody, not just among females and not just in terms of sport?

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The Government have certainly tried to take the learning from this campaign and apply it as widely as possible.

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My Lords, why should girls not continue to be active at a later age? Why is there a cut-off point of 60?

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That is a very good question which might apply to a number of us in this House. Sport England is working with women over 61 and, as I mentioned earlier, the biggest increase in participation has been in that older age group.

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My Lords, do the Government agree that promotion of walking and other solo sports is needed now? With over a quarter of a million women taking over two and a half hours of exercise a week, there is a risk that increased inactivity with Covid-19—this is all I can say about the new problem—will reverse the current benefits.

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My noble friend makes a very important point. Walking is now included in the Active Lives survey as one of the measures of activity we look at. Obviously, there are risks, to which I fear I do not have the answer at the moment, if people have to self-isolate due to Covid-19.