We’re thrilled to share our new Impact Report for 2023-24! See what we’ve been up to.

The impact of the rising cost of living on sport and physical activity

The cost of living has impacted most of us in one way or another; whether it’s through increased bills, or reduced leisure activities. These rising living costs can be attributed to a variety of things, including the lasting effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine and general inflation.

A recent study published by Sport England in conjunction with Sheffield Hallam University shows how the rising cost of living has had an impact on the physical activity sector.

Participation rates have remained stable for the most part – but inequalities persist

The latest Adult Active Lives Survey shows that participation rates in physical activity across the UK have remained stable compared to pre-Covid levels, with 63.1% of adults meeting the recommended 150 minutes of weekly physical activity.

Despite this positive news, existing inequalities within the physical activity sector have persisted and worsened as a result of the inflated cost of living.

The study shows that people from the most deprived areas and from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are more likely to say their levels of physical activity have been negatively affected by cost-of-living increases.

People from low-income houses who spend a higher proportion of income on housing, fuel and power are amongst the groups who are most likely to be affected by cost of living increases, as they have less in the way of ‘slack’ to absorb increased living costs.

More people adapting to the cost of living with alternative activities

The increased cost of living has led to people changing their behaviours in relation to activity, and these changes are unlikely to be reversed until household finances improve.

The Activity Check-In survey in August 2023 showed that just over two-thirds of adults (71%) had made changes to their sport and physical activity behaviours because of cost of living increases.

For example, more people reported cancelling gym and leisure memberships, instead opting for alternative methods of exercise such as weekly free parkrun events or active travel to and from work.

The impact on the sport and physical activity workforce

Formal club participation for adults reduced during the pandemic and has not fully recovered, with club memberships down 2% compared to pre-pandemic levels. It is therefore a concern that 6% of adults and 7% of children and young people have cancelled membership to specific sports or activities.

In response to cost of living increases, some clubs and community groups have reduced activity. There is also evidence that some are increasing fees to keep up with rising costs of venues and services, whilst some are providing reduced or free memberships where they can to make sessions affordable for people attending the club or group.

On top of this, many people have less time to volunteer as a result of increased costs, and many clubs and facilities have reported losing paid staff who are searching for better-paid opportunities elsewhere.

It is clear that sustainable solutions are needed to support community groups and sports clubs amid these economic challenges. Sport England’s report not only outlines these concerns, but highlights how their 10-year strategy Uniting The Movement plans to tackle these and reduce inequalities across the UK.

Read the full report

To read the full report on the impact the cost of living is having on sports and physical activity, click below.