Campaign urges council duty to help children access play

Nina Jacobs
Monday, September 23, 2019

A manifesto calling for greater leadership, investment and legislation for children's play in England is being sent to all political parties ahead of a general election.

The document, published by Play England, the Playwork Foundation and the International Play Association England, sets out proposals designed to reverse the effects of widespread cuts to play resources.

The coalition of organisations is urging party leaders to include the key pledges in their election manifestos in a bid to improve the health and wellbeing of children in England.

The charities want the government to create a cabinet post for children with responsibility for developing a national play policy for England. The role would co-ordinate across government departments whose work has an impact on children's play, they said.

In addition, a new statutory duty should be introduced requiring councils to assess and secure sufficient play opportunities for children in their area. This would be based on a successful model already rolled out in Wales.

A further pledge would see increased investment made available for councils to deliver free, accessible and inclusive opportunities for children and young people to play in their neighbourhoods, including in parks and public spaces.

Funding would also support after-school and holiday play schemes, play in schools and adventure playgrounds targeted in areas of disadvantage.

The manifesto also calls for investment to develop the skills and capacity of the local and national community play sector in England.

This would allow practitioners to provide advocacy, expert advice and guidance for children as well as supporting high-quality play provision and training.

The document was drawn up following a series of consultations with children's professionals and in response to a decade of cuts to children's play in England.

A recent Good Childhood report by the Children's Society found that since 2009, children and young people have become increasingly unhappy.

"Over the same period investment by the government in children's play in England has been reduced from £235m to zero.

"In contrast, the devolved governments of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland continue to support and invest in play," the charities said.

Furthermore, they highlighted research by the Association of Play Industries which found that since 2014 councils have closed 347 playgrounds across England, with more closures expected.

Nicola Butler, chair of Play England, said: "It's time to start taking play seriously. Too many children and young people in England are unable to enjoy a wide range of play opportunities and are losing out on the benefits of play.

"Children tell us that play makes them happy and is an important part of their daily lives."

Karen Benjamin, chair of the Playwork Foundation, said it is vital that playwork as a profession is recognised and valued and that spaces for children to play freely are protected.

"Playworkers support children's play through a specific approach and understanding, based on strong evidence and research, of the importance of time and spaces for play," she said.

Meynell Walter, chair of the International Play Association (IPA) England said leadership and funding was urgently needed to support opportunities for children's play.

"Children have an innate need to play, recognised by the right to play being enshrined in Article 31 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

"IPA England dedicates its work to promoting this, and we call upon the government and public bodies to adopt and action the policy proposals in this manifesto," he said.