Chair of the Association of Play Industries, Mark Hardy, has written the following letter to the Children’s Commissioner for England calling for an end to Play Poverty:
Dear Dame Rachel de Souza,
End Play Poverty
Congratulations on your new role as Children’s Commissioner for England. I write to you in the sincere hope that a fresh pair of eyes on the serious issues facing children and young people today will bring about a fresh approach to resolving them, with a strong emphasis on protection and prevention. Now is the time to ask why:
The case for play is a simple one. Play – particularly outdoor play – is fundamental to the normal development of children physically, mentally, socially and emotionally. Without it they suffer profoundly and struggle to make sense of the world. The dearth of play experienced by children currently and in recent years is a disaster and goes a long way towards explaining the explosion in children’s mental health problems and childhood obesity. And yet, successive governments overlook the crucial role of outdoor play and fail to address it in their policies. Perhaps they regard it as a non-issue, taking for granted that children play but failing to face up to the facts. The truth is that today’s children play outdoors far less than any generation before them and it is having dire consequences for their health and wellbeing.
Recent years have seen a rapid and dramatic move from outdoor to indoor time. Children and young people are experiencing a spiralling and toxic push-pull effect: as technology pulls them indoors to play addictive games and consume social media, the number of public play areas is in rapid decline, pushing them away from playing outdoors. Research shows that playgrounds are hugely under-funded and disappearing fast, as local authorities juggle with prioritising community spending. If playgrounds continue to decline at the current rate, our communities could look very different very soon, and once a playground disappears it is usually gone forever. The vast majority of children live in urban areas and without public playgrounds their opportunities for outdoor play are few. For children from the 1 in 8 UK households with no gardens, playgrounds are a lifeline. This is an issue which affects millions of children.
My ask therefore is straightforward. I urge you to lobby for increased and sustained government investment in free to access, unstaffed public play provision to help end play poverty. As a public health measure, the mental and physical health benefits of community playgrounds to children – both now and for generations to come – far outweighs the relatively modest investment required. Such a policy would support the Government’s intention to ‘Build Back Better’ post-Covid, as well as to promote equality; playgrounds are a public, free-to-access service where children from all backgrounds and of all abilities have the freedom to play together. Community play facilities provide a unique experience for children; they are spaces created just for them and they have a distinctive role in children’s health and wellbeing. We must not let them disappear.
Research conducted in 2019 of over 1100 parents showed that 90% of parents said that having a local playground would make their child play outside more. Outdoor play is exercise for children and we all know that exercise is a silver bullet when it comes to health and wellbeing. Might I suggest that substantial investment in public play areas is a win-win situation? A low-cost solution for Government with significant and long-lasting health benefits for our children.
I would welcome the opportunity to meet with you to discuss your call to give children opportunities to rediscover play and to spend time with their friends as one of the key foundations of helping them to get back on track, post-lockdown and beyond.
Mark E Hardy