Play England today welcomed recommendations in the report ‘Child’s Play’ by Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield for increased investment in play provision. The report highlights the urgent need for a joined-up approach to reverse the decline in children playing out. It draws attention to children’s worsening mental and physical health – and rightly argues that children’s play and physical activity must be a public health priority.
The Commissioner calls on the government to put out-of-school activity at the heart of its obesity strategy, pointing out it currently “focuses almost exclusively on nutrition, advertising and in-school physical activity”.
Play England has consistently argued that there needs a national strategy backed up by national and local funding. In 2010 the coalition government dropped the national play strategy and cancelled funding for play provision. National government grants to local authorities has been cut by over 30% since 2010. The impact of these cuts is clear: since 2014 nearly 400 playgrounds have been closed or are in line for closure, and Fields in Trust research shows 92% of local authority park departments have experienced budget cuts. Staffed play provision is also suffering from continued cuts.
It is very heartening that the report calls for investment to ensure parks and playgrounds are properly maintained and safe environments. The report also suggests that some of the government’s ‘Sugar Tax’ should be re-allocated away from schools’ sports and healthy eating programmes and instead used “to promote play and activity outside of school, along with making healthy meals available to children during these times so that they have the energy and strength to take part.” However, Play England believes that instead of reallocating money away from schools – which are already facing chronic under-funding – the government needs to make new funding streams available.
Whilst looking at ways to reduce the cost of out-of-school play provision is a step in the right direction, if we are to ensure that the most vulnerable children in our society can access play provision, this needs to be free and publicly funded. Play England welcomes the promotion of our Street Play project, which we piloted with funding from Public Health England. We also believe that publicly funded staffed play provision, such as Adventure Playgrounds, can help deliver the joined-up, community-driven play programme called for in this report. Adventure Playgrounds offer free, quality play opportunities in a safe environment. Many were built and developed by communities in areas of high social deprivation and have strong links with the local community including police, schools and public health bodies. These spaces attract children from a diversity of social backgrounds which is immeasurably important for social cohesion. Trained playworkers are uniquely placed to support children and families to help them build confidence about playing together.
We welcome the report’s recommendation that play provision needs to be strategically planned as part of local areas’ Joint Strategic Needs Assessment (JSNA). Planning and design are also important ways to improve play provision. Play England supports the London Plan recommendations on recreational and informal play which state that all housing developments should include informal recreational spaces. Play England has asked that Adventure Playgrounds also to be included in the all new developments.
Many of the issues and recommendations from the Children’s Commissions report are echoed in feedback from play workers, teachers, play practitioners, parents, residents and local councillors who are participating in policy roadshows we are running to develop a Manifesto for Play. We believe that it is vital the Government takes notice of the recommendations of its Children’s Commissioner and acts now to tackle the health crisis of our children and young people.
Download the report here.