Ministers clash on sports grants

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The Independent Online
BRITAIN'S SPORTS stars are being hampered in their efforts to become world-beaters by a government decision to cut their social security benefits when they receive National Lottery grants.

A new ruling by the Benefits Agency means that many sportsmen and women will be little or no better off if they qualify for help from the pounds 30m- a-year World Class Performance Programme. Disabled athletes will be particularly hard hit.

Tony Banks, the Sports minister, and the English Sports Council, chaired by Trevor Brooking, the former England footballer, are calling for the ruling to be reversed. Mr Banks is to meet Angela Eagle, the Social Security minister, to discuss the issue. "If we are to help our top competitors bring home more medals, we must ensure every pound of lottery money hits the target," he said last night.

The ruling will mean that lottery grants to sportsmen to help them to pay for training and equipment will be "clawed back" from means-tested benefits such as income support and housing benefit. Although existing payments will not necessarily be reviewed, sportsmen and women joining the programme will be affected as will those whose circumstances change.

Mr Banks believes lottery money will, in effect, be used to reduce the social security budget rather than help to produce a generation of new sports stars.