It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Angela Richardson, and as chair of the all-party group for sport, I will focus my remarks on sport and physical activity and touch on some of the concerns about the impact of covid on that sector. Sport permeates our wider society and public health, and the sector has been hit particularly hard. Sport brings people together, and now more than ever, we need to invest in community sport and activity.
Inactivity is responsible for one in six of all UK deaths, and we know that activity is a key part of fighting coronavirus and keeping us as healthy as possible. The Prime Minister had a nasty experience with the disease, owing to the fact that he was, in his own words, “too fat”, which is widely recognised as being a huge problem. Unfortunately, the stats on inactivity in my constituency are pretty woeful, and there is a real problem with significant health inequalities that will only be made worse by losing sports clubs and venues.
The Government have introduced unprecedented support for many sectors, but the sport and physical activity sector is yet to see a huge amount of that. It will need further support if it is to continue to provide invaluable help to our communities. I urge the Government to introduce a sports recovery fund and to invest in the community sports and physical activity that we all enjoy. I also call on them to extend the reduction in VAT that has been applied to the culture and hospitality sectors to the sport and physical activities sectors as well.
Sport England’s research found that 53% of adults had been encouraged to exercise by Government guidance during lockdown. That includes me—I am a stone and a half down compared with March, following in the PM’s footsteps. Those on lower incomes or with disabilities have found it harder than ever to be active during this crisis. Initial social distancing measures meant that access to sport and activity had to be put on hold, but I ask the Minister to ensure that should future lockdowns take place, our access to those venues and opportunities is protected as that is important for our mental health as a nation.
In September, data provided by more than 1,500 community sport and leisure facilities showed just 78 confirmed cases of coronavirus among customers, at a rate of just 0.34 cases per 100,000 visits. That shows that facilities are following the guidelines and are a safe place to be active. I thank all those in grassroots sports—they are mainly volunteers—who are working to keep things ticking over.
Our professional clubs are also at risk, and I know Ministers have had conversations about the football league. I have raised Mansfield Town with the Prime Minister in the Chamber. I am grateful for the attention on that, but countless other sports rely on ticket sales for their income and to remain viable. Almost 175,000 people have signed a petition to get fans back into stadiums, and that is a hugely important thing. These clubs are not just about sport; they are pillars of our community, and through outreach programmes such as “Football in the Community”-type schemes they pervade education as well as tackling isolation and other vital challenges.
I will end by emphasising the importance of the sector. As well as improving the physical health of communities such as mine, it is invaluable for our mental wellbeing, and I hope the Government will step in and protect these vital community and grassroots sports facilities.