Cost is the biggest barrier to young people’s participation in sport

Because a third live in poverty

Schools should open up their facilities at evenings and weekends to enable more young people to take part in sport. This is just one of a series of recommendations from an LSE study which found that cost is the biggest barrier to young people’s participation in sport because a third live in poverty.

Of the 9 million young people aged 14–24 living in the UK, approximately 30% are living in poverty. This includes 1.9 million young people with an income considerably below the poverty threshold (below 60% of median income).

Poverty among 16-19 year olds is now the highest of any age group and has risen from 27% (2002-3) to 34% of all young people in that age group. 21-24 years olds had the next highest poverty share – 29% (2011-13) compared with 23% (2002-3).

Professor Anne Power, on behalf of the charity StreetGames, studied five disadvantaged areas in depth: East Ham in Newham; Burngreave in Sheffield; Lache, a large estate in Chester; St Pauls in Bristol; and Gurnos in Merthyr Tydfil, South Wales. All of the areas are within the 10% most deprived in the country. Several of them are within the poorest 1% on particular aspects of deprivation such as income, education and health.

The report, Moving the Goalposts, launched on Monday December 7 at LSE at an event chaired by David Piachaud, Professor of Social Policy. Speakers will be Jane Ashworth, CEO of StreetGames, Professor Anne Power, Baroness Jowell and Sir Robin Wales, Mayor of Newham.

Professor Power and her team at LSE Housing and Communities interviewed young people between the ages of 14-25 and local parents in order to uncover what young people do, what they think of their area, why they play sport or don’t and what the barriers to involvement are. They also interviewed stakeholders or key actors in each area, including teachers and youth leaders, local councillors, leisure organisers and youth workers.

Researchers discovered that the biggest public service problem is the lack of supervision of local parks, open spaces and streets.  Open areas are not well maintained and so parents are fearful of letting their children frequent  public spaces.

Charges for leisure centres and sports facilities are too expensive for over-18s. Costs are at adult rates and young people face poor work opportunities and are generally on extremely low incomes. The findings suggest that more schools need to open up their facilities much more widely after school hours – like some of those observed in Merthyr and East Ham. Both schools and clubs talk about training volunteers in order to involve young people in helping other young people as a way of motivating the community more generally. This already happens on the Lache estate in Chester with the voluntarily organised football team.

Key findings:

  • Cost is the biggest barrier for over school age young people, e.g. fees for gyms and team sports.
  • Poor area conditions have a huge impact.
  • Young people like sport and outdoor games but there is a strong call for more      informal sport.
  • Free provision in youth clubs is  important, but parents worry about      area conditions and supervision.
  • Fear dampens      enthusiasm for using local parks or sports facilities,
  • Gender differences – boys look up to sporting role models whereas girls are      more worried about their image and their figure.
  • Leaving school is a cliff edge for sport.
  • Community spirit matters.
  • The definition of local area and community is extremely narrow  so area-based activity within concentrated poverty areas is therefore extremely important.


  • More organised but informal activities.
  • Close supervision of streets, parks, play areas, open spaces and clubs.
  • Specific activities for girls and boys.
  • Training for sport could be offered in shorter bites.
  • Targeted and government-backed area-based improvement.

Jane Ashworth CEO of StreetGames said: “This research is important, it helps to evidence the many different ways that poverty can impact on young people’s lives and their ability to engage and take part in sport.   This unique insight helps us understand the lives of young people, the barriers they face and how StreetGames, our network of local projects and similar charities can adapt and ensure sport for good is accessible to everyone.

Professor Power added: “It was eye-opening to learn just how much joining in matters to young people; how much informal games, outdoor activity and sport can inspire and motivate them; yet how many children and young people are held back from actively getting involved. Changing this would cost very little and help a lot.”

 Featured Image Source: By Chip Griffin on Flickr under (CC BY 2.0)

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