The Minister of State for Disabled People, Work and Health Penny Mordaunt MP has unveiled plans for a pioneering cross-sector scheme to give disabled people and those with long-term health conditions better access to physical activity opportunities.

The cross-sector initiative – to be led by ukactive, Sport England, Disability Rights UK and the English Federation of Disability Sport – will aim to remove barriers to physical activity for disabled people so they can tap into its myriad benefits.

Speaking at the ukactive National Summit in Westminster last week (November 1st) the Minister said: “The aim of this partnership is to create a cultural shift and change in perceptions around disabled people’s participation in physical activity, and to create a national ambition within the physical activity sector to become more inclusive for disabled people.

In order to accomplish this, the partnership is developing a project which will take an holistic approach to the sector.

The scheme will identify the baseline of current activity levels, facility usage and sector engagement, and bring together insight from disabled people and operators within the sector. It will explore the customer journey that disabled people experience and – as The Minister noted detail “the difficulties disabled people experience in participating in physical activity”.

The initiative will also create flagship sites with six operators – PureGym, David Lloyd Leisure, Everyone Active, Virgin Active, Greenwich Leisure Limited and Places for People – who were praised by the Minister for supporting the development of the scheme. They will test, validate, and promote the changes that can be made to improve disabled people’s active use of leisure facilities.

The Minister cited official figures that found that “disabled people are twice as likely to be inactive than non-disabled people, are more likely to be socially isolated and lonely, and more likely to be unemployed.” The cross-sector project is aimed at addressing this gap in activity levels between disabled people and the rest of the population to ensure disabled people enjoy the array of benefits of being active.

The Minister for Disabled People noted these benefits herself, saying that physical activity not only “makes good business sense, but is also a fundamental condition of a person being fulfilled- physically, mentally, socially, and economically”.

Huw Edwards, ukactive Public Affairs Director and Leisure Sector Disability Champion, said: “Disabled people are currently far less active than the rest of the public and we are determined to remove the barriers that cause this and bring physical activity for disabled people into the mainstream.

“With so much to be gained in terms of physical, mental and social health benefits, we simply cannot afford to leave disabled people on the side-lines of physical activity.

“This broad coalition and the wider partners we will work with to activate this initiative demonstrates a cross-sector commitment to ensure disabled people are fully included in our mission to get more people, more active, more often.”

Barry Horne, Chief Executive for the English Federation of Disability Sport (EFDS), said:

“With our in-depth knowledge and experience of helping organisations to support disabled people to get active, EFDS is proud to collaborate with partners on this scheme. We’re also delighted that activity providers within the leisure sector are already signing up to be part of the change.

“As a large proportion of our population, disabled people deserve the right to be active in any way and location that is right for them. For many, as with non-disabled people, this begins with gym or leisure centre-based activities.

“We know this scheme will enable more disabled people’s needs and views to be acted upon. Our team is looking forward to helping drive real change over the coming years.”

Kamran Mallick, CEO of Disability Rights UK, said: “Disabled people are less active because they have traditionally been excluded from the leisure industry and other physical activity provision. They have told us that the barriers they face include lack of information, support and physical access. We look forward to being part of this partnership with ukactive, Sport England and English Federation of Disability Sport to break down the barriers that exclude us.

“At Disability Rights UK we work hard to ensure that disabled people have the same rights as others to live good lives and play an equal part in society. We feel that our involvement in this exciting new partnership will help us towards achieving this vision.

“I look forward to the work the partnership will do to open up leisure facilities to all disabled people, it signals a positive change in approaches to engaging disabled people which we are really happy to see. On a personal level, I look forward to being able to go into leisure facilities and actually use the equipment and activities available.”

Mike Diaper, Executive Director at Sport England, said: “Sport England want to help everyone enjoy the benefits of being active, and this cross-sector partnership is an important step towards achieving that goal.

“Many disabled people want to be active or play sport, and gyms, leisure centres and other providers want to make it an easy, practical choice. Through this new scheme, we’ll be listening to disabled people to find out what they want and what works best for them, then helping make their ideas a reality through six of the biggest operators in the country.”