The Government has treated people working in the fitness sector like “second-class citizens” behind those in hospitality since the Covid-19 outbreak, the CEO of a leading gym chain has said.
Millions of pounds have been poured into rescuing the nation’s pubs and restaurants but, when it comes to gyms, leisure centres and health clubs, the Government has effectively left the sector to fend for itself, according to Total Fitness CEO Sophie Lawler.
Now, Ms Lawler has warned, “the industry is on a precipice”.
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The gym boss said it was a source of “great frustration” that the Treasury had cut VAT from 20% to 5% for hospitality businesses, in a scheme that has been extended to March 2021, when the fitness sector has long been calling for this type of relief.
“The hospitality industry got VAT down to 5%. We’re still paying VAT at 20%,” Ms Lawler said.
“When you compare pound for pound the level of support between hospitality and leisure, we very much feel like second-class citizens.”
Eat Out to Help Out
The Government set aside £500m to fund the hugely popular Eat Out to Help Out scheme intended to breathe life into the nation’s floundering restaurants and pubs over the summer. Under the initiative, participating businesses offered diners 50% discounts of up to £10 per person on sit-down meals and soft drinks every Monday to Wednesday in August.
Ms Lawler said she was “baffled” that the fitness and leisure had been “left on the sidelines”, particularly given that the Government is stepping up its drive to combat obesity.
In July the Department of Health and Social Care unveiled its Better Health campaign, intended to “get the nation fit and healthy, protect [people] against Covid-19 and protect the NHS”.
Launching the campaign, Boris Johnson was frank about his own weight when he was admitted to intensive care with the virus in March: “When I went into ICU, when I was really ill, I was way overweight … I was too fat,”the Prime Minister said.
Gyms ‘part of the solution’ to Covid
“Obesity is a particular point of challenge when it comes to recovery rates from Covid,” Ms Lawler said.
“It’s frustrating to operate so diligently in a sector that is absolutely part of the solution and not the problem and have so little support.
“It’s literally the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and ‘Work the rest out guys – We need you in the future but it’s up to you to survive this storm.’”
The community sport and physical activity sector contributes about £85bn to England’s social and economic value alone, according to a recent report.
“Social value”, including physical and mental health, wellbeing, and individual and community development is estimated at just under £72bn, the research, commissioned by Sport England and conducted by Sheffield Hallam University, found. A further £13bn in economic value