Disability Sport and Participation

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 5th December 2019.

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Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

After Tuesday, when I prepared a six-minute speech and, without notice, was told that I had only four minutes, I am now facing the opposite situation. However, I will deliver the speech that I have prepared. Thank you very much, Presiding Officer.

Like other speakers this afternoon, the Liberal Democrats believe that everyone should have the chance to realise the benefits of participating in sport and living a more active lifestyle. Active lifestyles help to improve the quality of life in later years, reduce mental health risks, improve health overall and increase people’s employability. It has been good to see consensus breaking out in this afternoon’s debate.

Back in 2016, the Scottish Liberal Democrats said that the Scottish Government should develop a long-term strategy to give access for all to opportunities that are appropriate for people’s ability and commitment to sport, while particularly recognising that funding should be available for talented individuals to achieve their potential. We suggested that funding to support growth in sport and physical activity could come from healthy eating initiatives such as a sugar tax, and we said that we would protect sports and arts funding through the national lottery.

It is vital to recognise the role that teachers and schools play in promoting access to sport, and we also want to support carers by providing free community benefits such as free passes to leisure centres.

Since the present Government came to power, annual investment in Paralympic sports has risen and there has been investment in Scottish disability sport. I am happy to give credit where credit is due, as it is in this case.

However, Scottish Disability Sport reports that participants and performers with a disability still have the lowest participation levels in sport and physical activity. It is widely recognised that there is a lag between current practice and the philosophy of inclusion in physical activity and sport, which we have heard about already, for people with a disability.

As Mary Fee and Alison Johnstone highlighted, it is not really surprising to see that only 20 per cent of people with disabilities take the recommended level of physical activity, compared with 52 per cent of non-disabled people. I make no excuse for repeating those statistics, because they are stark, and we should not rest until that activity gap is closed.

Interestingly, Scottish Disability Sport also reports that almost half of disabled people—47 per cent—fear losing their benefits if they are seen to be physically active. What a disincentive it is that half are worried about engaging in sport because of the perception that they might lose their benefits.

It is vital that we listen to disabled people and involve them in the development of sporting activities. Training and education have the potential to address many of the issues around access to sport and physical activities in general, and they help in raising awareness about access, attitudes and assumptions.

It is essential to show disabled people participating in non-elite and non-competitive sports—in ordinary sporting and physical activities—as well as the elite disabled activities that we see so often on television.

I echo Brian Whittle’s and Mary Fee’s sentiments. Would it not be better to get to debate sport for everyone, rather than highlight disability? I look forward to the time when we get to that position.