Parks cuts 'are putting children's health and well‐being at risk' says API

The Association of Play Industries has told MPs that austerity measures are putting children's health and well-being at risk and called for food and drink levies to pay for play areas and projects.

Safe place to play: Abbey Park in Evesham, Worcestershire
Safe place to play: Abbey Park in Evesham, Worcestershire

In its submission to the Communities and Local Government Committee Parks Inquiry, the API said parks provide a public service as hubs for physical activity for people of all ages and should be publicly funded but said that cuts were putting children’s access to safe places to play at risk.  

It called for a proportion of revenue raised by the new soft drinks tax, plus wider levies on producers of food and drinks high in salt, sugar and saturated fat, allocated to local authorities to improve opportunities for children to play and be physically active in their local communities, with disadvantaged communities given priority.   

API chair Mark Hardy said: "Many children have nowhere safe at home to play outdoors, so playgrounds - often located in public parks - form one of the few practical spaces where they can play. Children’s fundamental right to play is preserved in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which was ratified by the UK government in 1991.  That right must be protected."

Hardy said policy action was needed to address children’s increasingly sedentary lifestyles and parks have a pivotal role to play.  

"Play delivers wide-ranging developmental benefits, and evidence shows that children are more physically active if they have access to high quality outdoor play facilities.  Investment in public play facilities and in the parks that host them should be a government priority, particularly for deprived communities, where need is greatest and obesity rates most prevalent."

In this year's State of UK Public Parks, the Heritage Lottery Fund found that 54% of households with children under five visit their local park at least once a week.  Research by the API last year found that 38% of parents and families were worried that playgrounds in their local community would close, 81% called for investment in parks and green spaces for public recreation, and 98.5% said it is important that their children are physically active.  Meanwhile 95% of park managers surveyed for the HLF parks report said they expect revenue cuts to continue in the next three years.

However the API said it believed parks are "an essential public service".

The six-page submission signposts MPs to a number of case studies and reports , including its publication, Community benefits of children’s play areas, which sets out case study examples of the impact of improved play facilities on local communities, The Politics of Play – the Importance of Play to Children and Wider Society by Tim Gill, an evidence review on behalf of the Children’s Play Policy Forum and The Play Return: A review of the wider impact of play initiatives, summarises the measurable impact of initiatives to improve play opportunities

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