Seven months after the Prime Minister gave an emotional speech insisting that the Paralympics had transformed perceptions of the disabled in Britain, a former Paralympian has launched a scathing attack on the Government’s approach to sport, insisting that fewer disabled children are competing now than in the early 1980s.
Baroness Grey-Thompson told the House of Commons Education Committee that the Government did not take sport seriously and that many disabled children were still “sent to the library” during PE lessons at school. The 43-year-old, who was born with spina bifida, was ennobled in 2010 after winning 11 Paralympic gold medals.
She said: “What we are seeing is, in some sports, fewer disabled children competing now than when I was 12, before the word ‘Paralympic’ was invented. In my sport, wheelchair racing, there are very few girls competing.”
She said many mainstream schools did not know how to teach sport to disabled children, adding: “Still an awful lot of disabled children are sent to the library because teachers don’t feel equipped or able, in many cases, to integrate them properly into lessons.”
The cross-bench peer has previously been highly critical of the Government’s disability policy and warned that changes to the disability living allowance could see disabled people “ghettoised and excluded from society”. She had been tipped to be named as the next chairman of Sport England, the Government’s sports funding body, but was overlooked.
Baroness Grey-Thompson said that if she had been made chairwoman, her priority would be the training of sport and PE teachers. She claimed sport was not taken seriously by the Government, adding: “It is always seen as something lovely when we have a successful Olympics and Paralympics … but, because it’s hard to do, I think it gets sometimes ignored in the years in between.”
She added that it would be impossible to get the health and education ministers in a room together to discuss sport, saying: “We are trying to save money because of tough economic times. The obesity bill is just going to keep rising, welfare benefits will just keep rising and, actually, sport [and] physical activity can do an awful lot to challenge and help those things.”