Children suffering due to lack of outdoor play, UK charities warn | Children


Charities call on government to prioritise outside spaces for play as MPs begin inquiry into planning and children’s wellbeing

Tue 23 Jan 2024 09.53 CET

Children and young people are suffering huge damage to their health and wellbeing from policymakers refusing to prioritise the need for outdoor play, charities have said.

As MPs begin an inquiry into how better planning could enhance the wellbeing of children, the charities said urgent change was needed.

Alice Ferguson, of Playing Out, said: “Compared to previous generations, children’s lives have become incredibly restricted, indoors, isolated and inactive, largely due to changes in the outdoor environment. Government could reverse this trend and hugely improve children’s health and wellbeing by making streets safer and neighbourhoods more child-friendly, enabling them to get outside and play every day.”

Many other countries, including Germany, Norway, and Sweden, have relevant national policies or guidance on making sure cities are more child-friendly, say the organisations. At the municipal level, the cities of Barcelona, Freiburg, Ghent, Paris, Pontevedra, Rotterdam, and Tirana, among others, have taken forward ambitious programmes.

Clive Betts, the Labour MP who chairs the levelling up, housing and communities committee running the inquiry, said: “We want to find out more about how children and young people experience outdoor spaces in towns, cities and rural areas across England.

“What policy interventions from local and central government could help to deliver streets, estates, villages, neighbourhoods and parks that enable kids to enjoy active outdoor lifestyles and engage with others?”

The charities said evidence showed the physical and mental health of children and young people was in serious, long-term decline, something that was significantly exacerbated by poverty.

The coalition, which includes Playing Out, Save the Children UK and Wildlife and Countryside Link, said children wanted to be outside and be active, playing with friends and walking or cycling to school. But they faced barriers to being able to do so.

“Government policy has not addressed some of the root causes of this – and in some cases has added to the problem. A child-focused built environment policy could transform children’s lives, health and wellbeing … effective low cost policies could be enacted almost immediately,” they said in a statement.

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health said in a report last year that children’s health in the most disadvantaged communities presented “a terrifying picture”.

“Paediatricians cannot be any clearer on this point; child health is in crisis and rampant health inequalities can no longer be ignored,” the RCP said.

The charities said: “For decades, public policy in England has failed to create places that support children’s healthy development and wellbeing.

“Traffic-dominated neighbourhoods, low quality housing layouts, inadequate facilities, and poorly designed housing estates, along with a lack of parks and green spaces and other accessible high quality natural spaces, have harmed children’s health, and undermined their quality of life.

“Economic deprivation and racial inequality are both significant additional factors compounding children’s lack of access to outdoor play, physical activity and green space. There is also evidence to suggest girls spend less time outside playing than boys.”

Policies such as “no ballgame areas” were further restricting children from accessing free play areas, they said.

“Children are also prevented or discouraged from using other ‘doorstep space’ – for example on housing estates – due to a lack of safe, accessible or suitable space and a lack of permission to use the space outside their homes.

“‘No ballgames’ signs and culture are still prevalent in social housing schemes across the UK.”

The committee’s inquiry will start hearing evidence on Wednesday.

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