The Budget: more support for pools and leisure centres will help women and girls


The news of an extra £63million funding for community leisure centres with pools in yesterday’s Budget is welcome. Although it is not a complete solution to the challenges facing the leisure sector, it will provide the facilities most at risk of closure and cuts with the urgent funding they need this year.

We know that women and girls are disproportionately dependent on pools and leisure facilities to be active. The statistics are stark: Sport England data shows that in 2020-21 over 4 million women took an exercise class compared to less than 1.5million men, whilst 1.1 million women went swimming compared to 855,000 men. Add to this the number of women working in these environments, and the gendered impact of any threat to leisure facilities is clear. Leisure centres are also often some of the only spaces offering women only active environments, which is vital for some groups (such as Muslim women). Further closures or reductions in services will be devastating for women and girls.

  • 4 million

    women took an exercise class in 2020-21, compared to 1.5 million men

    Sport England

  • 1.1 million

    women went swimming in 2020-21, compared to 855,000 men

    Sport England

This announcement, combined with last week’s on school sport, shows an encouraging – and overdue – recognition of the importance of sport and activity. However, whilst welcome, none of the funding is specific to girls and women. This is despite women’s activity levels being lower than men’s at every stage of their lives and the specific, gendered barriers to getting involved in sport our research shows girls and women face. From young girls being made to feel sport is not for them by pernicious ‘girly girl’ stereotypes to women in midlife struggling to make time for themselves in a society that tells them their role is to care for everyone else, removing these systemic barriers requires both commitment and investment. We must question whether funding that is not specifically targeted at girls and women is the right long-term approach and, if not, adjust the allocation of resources accordingly (a gender budgeting approach). In these difficult economic times this need not entail spending more money, but an honest assessment of how existing budgets are being spent and the impact they are having.