Sports Minister “understands the feelings” behind Work Out to Help Out

During the debate, a number of MPs highlighted how fitness facilities have played a key role in improving the physical and mental health of the country / Shutterstock / Robert Kneschke

The UK is unlikely to see the introduction of a Work Out to Help Out program, although Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston has said he “understands” why so many people are supporting one.

The program – which would provide people with subsidized access to health clubs and recreation centers – enjoys wide support in the physical activity sector and the public, with nearly 230,000 people signing a petition calling on the government to fund the initiative.

The petition, launched by HCM Editor Liz Terry MBE, sparked a debate on the possibility of a Work Out to Help Out program in the House of Commons on Monday (March 22, 2021).

Based on the debate, the project is also supported in Westminster, with the support of a number of MPs.

Many MPs spoke out in favor, highlighting how fitness facilities have played a crucial role in improving the physical and mental health of the country and also how the health and fitness sector has suffered severely from pandemic lockdowns. .

To view a recording of the debate, click here

Sam Tarry, Labor MP for Ilford South, made a particularly passionate appeal for a Work Out to Help Out initiative to be funded.

“The closures have resulted in people being confined to their homes for months, unable to exercise as they were previously used to,” he said.

“This has led to an increase in levels of obesity and mental health issues, which is putting additional pressure on our NHS.

“There is also the impact on the health and fitness industry, which, like so many other industries, has remained in a perilous position, having suffered a sharp drop in revenues over the past 12 months.

“Health clubs and recreation centers should be recognized as centers of wellness and given the support they need to survive and help revive the declining physical and mental health of our country.

“Almost a quarter of a million people have signed a petition to fund a Work Out to Help Out program, which would subsidize gym memberships, group exercise classes and personal training classes, in order to provide more people with access to health and fitness services.

“This would give a timely economic boost to the active leisure industry and have a positive impact on the NHS, in terms of reducing further stress in the future.

“And of course take so many gyms and health clubs across the country off their knees.”

Greg Smith, Conservative MP for Buckingham, was also in favor of the project.

“Gyms and recreation centers have become a lifeline for many people, including my constituents, many of whom have signed the petition.

“Industry is one of the only sectors that has been scientifically proven to be able to support our country with underlying health issues.

“Gyms, health clubs and recreation centers are – and should be – part of the COVID-19 solution and I would support a Work Out to Help Out program, as requested in the petition.

“A financial incentive that would encourage people to renew their long-standing gym memberships and support their local health clubs and recreation centers, either through a tax incentive, reduced VAT, or vacations,” or something similar to the Eat Out to Help Out program – on a pay-as-you-go basis – would be good for businesses because they are doing everything they can to bounce back.

Smith also highlighted the health club’s safety record – and said shutting down the area during closures had been “disappointing.”

“Given the health and safety record of health and fitness facilities – and the corresponding extremely low incidence of people visiting gyms that tested positive for COVID-19 – this was , we have to admit, a bitter pill that such severe limitations have been placed on opportunities to exercise in a safe environment, ”said Smith.

“I am sure I am not the only one to say that the consequences on the physical and mental health of my constituents of these closures have been significant.”

Responding to calls, Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston recognized the importance of the sector and was sensitive to the “feelings expressed”.

He did not approve of the program, however, describing how the government had provided financial support to the physical activity sector in several other ways.

“The importance of sport and physical activity has never been greater for the physical and mental health of the country,” said Huddleston.

“They are a powerful defense against COVID-19 and in each of the blockages this has been reflected in the government’s approach as the importance of regular exercise is recognized and highlighted.

“I understand why so many people supported the goal of the Work Out to Help Out program – and the feelings behind it.

“But the government has provided support in other ways, including of course, through tax breaks, cash grants, employee salary supports, loans, etc., to ensure these facilities survive. and can then reopen under step 2 of the Roadmap. “

He also said further discussions – including those with industry bodies, such as ukactive – regarding additional support were still ongoing.

“I know that honorable Members have suggested other measures and I have had talks with ukactive and others to see if we can extend the reduction in VAT, which currently exists for the tourism and tourism sectors. hotel.

“I could never make commitments on behalf of the Treasury, but I can tell you that conversations do take place – but of course they are always subject to Treasury decisions and that’s a difficult area.

The government has also provided support worth £ 100million to local authority recreation centers and Sport England has provided £ 220million directly to support community sports clubs and exercise centers during this pandemic.”

Prior to the debate, the government provided an official response to the petition, stating: “We have no plans to fund a Work Out to Help Out program.

“The government has provided unprecedented support to businesses through tax breaks, cash grants and employee wage support, which many sports clubs have benefited from.”

HCM Editor-in-Chief Liz Terry said: “Seeing so many MPs endorse the work of the health and fitness industry and the business line in Parliament was very powerful and it is heartening that the Minister has confirmed that the door is always open when it comes to VAT reductions. for the industry – we should have a level playing field with hospitality and attractions.

Lobbyists will continue to advocate economically and socially for Work Out to Help Out and in the next issue of HCM magazine, activist Nick Whitcombe explains that the program could generate a net benefit for the government, while playing a major role in the rebound and revitalization of the nation after containment.

“A sluggish workforce will not be adapted to the engine of the economy, as mental health issues abound. We need a helping hand to get people back to activity, to fitness and to reenergize the nation and we call on the government to look at this idea with an open mind and do a cost benefit analysis as soon as possible. possible. “

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