Coronavirus (COVID-19) business support: equality impact assessments

Detailed equality impact assessments (EQIAs) for the COVID-19 business support funding issued between March 2020 and April 2021.

Additional Support for Soft Play Sector Fund

Name of Grant:

Additional Support for Soft Play Sector Fund

Policy Lead

Andrew Baird

Legal power used:

Section 126 of the Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Act 1996.

Grant Overview:

The Additional Support for Soft Play Fund was launched in August 2021 as a mechanism for directing financial support to Soft Play businesses. Soft play centres in Scotland experienced significant financial challenges due to Covid-19 having being required to close for longer than those in other parts of the UK. This funding was designed to address this disparity and the seasonality of the sector (generally, lower usage in summer months). Crucially, the objective of this fund was to support businesses in remaining financially viable for the period restrictions were in place and was not intended to replace lost income or to cover operating losses incurred. This fund followed on from the Business Contingency Fund which directed business support funding towards soft play centres in recognition of the fact that they had been required by law to close since the outset of the pandemic and were experiencing particularly acute financial challenges by comparison to other sectors as a result. From November 2020 to April 2021 the sector was also eligible for four-weekly payments from the Strategic Framework Business Fund (and associated grants).

Building on the first phase of the Business Contingency Fund and developed in close collaboration with the Indoor Play Centres Owners and Managers Group, all soft play centres in Scotland were eligible for a one-off grant of up to £5000 in Local Authorities at Protection Level 1 or £14,000 in Local Authorities at Protection Level 2 depending on the Rateable Value of their business operating premises. This was in recognition of the fact that Soft Play businesses in Protection Level 2[26] were still closed, as they had been for the majority of the Covid-19 pandemic, and that businesses in Protection Level 1 were still operationally restricted.

Eligible businesses were identified automatically by local authorities using data gathered through previous Covid-19 Business Support schemes.

Executive Summary:

The extraordinary measures taken by the Scottish Government to protect the right to life and right to health for the people of Scotland throughout the Covid-19 pandemic have placed unprecedented pressures on Scotland’s economy and business community. Health protection regulations required certain businesses to close or placed specific restrictions on their operations at different times between March 2020 and August 2021. Many others were impacted by significant reductions in demand due to these restrictions or as a result of the introduction of domestic and/or international travel restrictions.

Since the start of the pandemic, the Scottish Government has spent £4.3 billion in providing direct financial support to those businesses impacted by Covid-19 restrictions and regulation. As the impacts of restrictions were felt differently across the business community, varying according to factors such as sector and location, a range of different funding streams were developed to target financial support towards specific sectors or types of business based on the challenges they were experiencing as a result of the pandemic. Given the unprecedented challenges presented by Covid-19 it was necessary to develop financial support schemes at pace to ensure that funds were distributed rapidly in the interests of preventing business closures and preserving jobs. The additional support for Soft Play was no exception to this although, as with other funds, we have maintained a commitment to review the delivery of these funds and to update policy where necessary.

The variable impact of the pandemic on different demographic groups in Scotland and the inequalities created by this are well understood. Throughout the pandemic the Scottish Government has taken measures to mitigate these inequalities where possible. In line with its responsibilities under the Public Sector Equality Duty, as enshrined in the Equality Act 2010. In developing the additional support for Soft Play fund and other similar funds, the Scottish Government has considered how it can eliminate unlawful discrimination, advance equality of opportunity and foster good relations between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not. In doing so, the Scottish Government drew on a wide range of sources to understand the impact of restrictions on those with protected characteristics including statistics published by both the Scottish Government and the Office of National Statistics as well as insights from the Annual Population Survey, the Department of Business, Enterprise and Industrial Strategy’s Longitudinal Small Business Survey as well as from organisations such as Close the Gap and the Social Metric Commission.

Every effort is made to ensure that Equality Impact Assessments (EQIA) are published timeously. However, the speed at which it has been necessary to ensure mechanisms are in place for supporting businesses impacted by Covid-19 restrictions has resulted in delays to completing EQIAs for a number of business support funds.

This assessment builds on the EQIA completed for the Business Contingency Fund, which distributed financial support to soft play business in October 2020. Businesses also received support via the Strategic Framework Business Fund and associated top up funds and restart grants for which an EQIA has also been completed.

Key Findings - impact assessment of benefits and/or disadvantages.

Advancing Equality

By distributing financial support through the additional support for Soft Play, the Scottish Government acted to mitigate the impact of the regulations on soft play centres to support them in remaining financially viable while restrictions were in place and which required them to remain closed. This fund aided a sector which is primarily targeted towards children. In doing so, this assessment shows that the additional support for Soft Play acted to advance equalities by protecting businesses in sectors that impact on the lives of those with protected characteristics disproportionately. Alongside the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS), the additional support For Soft Play protects and preserves jobs in sectors which employ a disproportionately high number of people from among groups with protected characteristics particularly young people, women and minority ethnic groups. Data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) shows that minority ethnic groups, women and young people have a significantly higher likelihood of working within soft play centres in comparison to other sectors of the economy. Financial support distributed through the Additional Support for Soft Play Fund also targeted a sector which has instances of insecure employment and low pay and is least resilient to financial shocks. It is worth noting that data from the Department of Business Energy and Industrial Strategy’s (BEIS) Longitudinal Small Business Survey shows that a high proportion of businesses across the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors (78%) identified as having employees with protected characteristics. More detail on this is provided in the assessment against individual groups with protected characteristics is set out below.

In terms of wider impact on society, although catering to different audiences, the closure of soft play centres within these sectors disproportionately impacts on children, young people and their families by contributing to reduced opportunities for indoor play and socialising which could lead to or exacerbate social isolation and loneliness. By providing additional financial support to businesses within these sectors to enable them to remain financially viable during the period of restrictions, the Fund has acted to advance equalities.

Eliminating Discrimination

This Fund gave financial support to all businesses to a sector that had been required to remain closed or restricted on the 5th of June 2021 as a result of Covid-19 and had therefore been uniquely impacted by the pandemic. Notably, discussions with the Scottish Indoor Play Centres Owners and Management Group highlighted the seasonal nature of their business which saw higher levels of business carried out in the winter months compared to summer as a result of children undertaking outdoor play and activities more during the summer months.

The award levels also sought to reflect the fact that Soft Play centres had remained closed throughout most of the Covid-19 pandemic and that despite easing of restrictions the sector still faces operational restrictions and continuing financial hardship. As such, this assessment did not identify any specific opportunities to eliminate discrimination in developing and implementing the Additional Support for Soft Play Fund.

Fostering good relations

The Soft Play Sub-Sector, is an important space for social and community interaction providing an opportunity for engagement across and between groups with protected characteristics and helping to foster good relations between these groups. Businesses in this sector promote engagement between and across groups in a number of ways. As well as being shared spaces, as highlighted above, there is a clustering of several different groups with protected characteristics in the Retail, Hospitality and Leisure (RHL) sectors especially young people, women and minority ethnic groups. By sharing workplaces this promotes close interaction and engagement between these groups including those with intersecting protected characteristics. In providing financial support to businesses in these sectors to remain financially viable through the restrictions, the Scottish Government is therefore acting to foster good relations between groups with protected characteristics.

Age: Older People and Children and Young People

2019 data from the ONS related to the employment of young people shows the following:

  • Leisure - 27% of employees working in the sport, amusement and recreation sector are aged between 16 – 24.

Data from the ONS Annual Population Survey provides an insight into the demographic profile of ‘playworkers’ at UK level which make up a significant proportion of those employed within soft play centres. It showed the following data regarding the Age of those employed in these roles:

Playworkers – There is a fairly consistent employment rates across age ranges. Notably approximately 25% of people employed as playworkers were aged between 16-24 years old compared to the 12.3% share of the labour market.

This data shows that young people experience a significant disadvantage as a result of the closure of soft play centres due to the disproportionate number of young people employed within the sector. The long term ‘scarring’ impacts of the pandemic on the career prospects of young people have also been highlighted by organisations such as the Institute for Fiscal (IFS) and the Social Metrics Commission the latter of which has shown that young people (18 -24) are 7% more likely to experience a negative labour market outcome as a result of Covid-19 that those aged 25 – 44.

Furthermore, the nature of these businesses also means that their patrons are typically young people and children. Soft play businesses in particular have an almost exclusive use by children. Failure to support these businesses would likely have a detrimental impact on the opportunities for young people and children to have available recreational facilities as soft play services provide spaces for children to develop their physicality as well as providing an avenue for social interaction between other children.

Sex: Men and Women

2019 data from the ONS related to the employment of women shows the following:

  • Leisure - 40% of employees working in the sport, amusement and recreation sector are women.

Furthermore the 2017 ONS Annual Population Survey gives statistical data on ‘playworkers’ who make up a significant proportion of soft play workers. It showed the following data regarding the Sex of those employed in these roles:

  • Playworkers – Approximately 91% of those employed as ‘playworkers’ were women. At the time of the survey women constituted approximately 47% of the national workforce across all sectors compared to a labour market share of 48.8%.

It can be seen that those involved in professions related to the soft play sector are female dominated roles. With those involved in playwork being especially high in the context of the entire leisure sector.

Additionally the Scottish Indoor Play Centres Owners and Management Group made clear that there were significant numbers of female owned businesses in this sector however there is no substantive evidence available to demonstrate this.


Data from the ONS highlighting which occupations have higher COVID exposure rates also give statistics for the makeup of Playworkers who come from an ethnic minority background:

  • Playworkers – 13% of those employed as ‘playworkers’ were identified as coming from a Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic background compared to a labour market share of 4% across all other sectors

The fund provide much needed support to a sector that has had some of the strictest restrictions placed on it in order to prevent the spread of COVID. This sector is demonstrated to employ a small but significant number of people from minority ethnic backgrounds. Combined with the relatively low salary paid to workers in this industry, discussed further below, it would place a disadvantage on minority ethnic employees were we to fail to support these industries,


Specific data on business ownership and employment by sector is not available to fully assess the impact of the Additional Support for Soft Play fund on those with a disability

Religion and Belief

No Discernible Impact

Sexual Orientation

No Discernible Impact

Pregnancy and maternity

No Discernible Impact

Gender reassignment

No Discernible Impact

Marriage or Civil Partnership

No Discernible Impact

Socio-economic disadvantage: any people experiencing poverty

Data from the ONS highlighting the higher risk exposure to COVID faced by employees in certain profession also provided statistics relating to the average pay of those workers. It highlighted that persons in the Playworker profession had relatively low average hourly income levels.

  • Playworkers – The data indicates that the average hourly wage of a playworker is £9.00. This is also therefore considered to be a low paid profession.

As part of a 2020 study on Low and High pay in the UK, ONS defined a low pay job as being below £9.12 – less than two thirds of the median hourly wage.

The contingency fund therefore, in supporting a sector which relies on the employment of Playworkers, helps to support people from a disadvantaged socio-economic background.

Stakeholder Engagement:

We engaged extensively with the Scottish Indoor Play Centres Owners and Managers Group as well as with individual soft play centres in shaping the grant award levels and eligibility criteria for this fund.

Mitigations –


Next Steps (if any)


Declaration and Publication

I have read the Equality Impact Assessment and I am satisfied that it represents a fair and reasonable view of the expected equality impact of the measures implemented.


Date: 19/11/2021



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