New study finds access to public play spaces is unfair and unequal

9 February 2022

Access to public play spaces in the UK is unfair and unequal, according to new research. A Freedom of Information survey carried out by the Association of Play Industries (API) has revealed that some UK regions have almost five times the free-to-access play provision of others.
The Association of Play Industries (API) is calling on the government to level up the life chances of UK children by ensuring equal access for all to public play spaces. In the UK, public playgrounds are the number one location for children’s outdoor play. Free, outdoor play is vital for children’s physical and mental health and without it normal childhood development is curtailed.
The vast majority of British children live in built-up urban areas, and those from the 1 in 8 UK households without a garden (1 in 5 in London), rely on public play areas for outdoor play and exercise. For many children, community playgrounds are their only chance to get active and play outdoors. Disabled children’s access to, and enjoyment from, playgrounds also needs to improve.
The research highlights the postcode lottery facing children and families, with some areas well-served and others seriously deprived of community play facilities.

  • Children in London have access to almost five times fewer public playgrounds than children in Scotland.
  • The West Midlands has the worst play provision in the UK with 929 children per playground. It also has the worst childhood obesity rates in England (Year 6).
  • London has the second worst play provision in the UK with 866 children per playground.
  • Every playground in the North-East and the North-West serves over 600 children, compared to just 196 in Scotland.
  • Welsh children enjoy access to over twice the number of playgrounds than children in London.

The API’s Equal Play campaign is calling for:

Ring-fenced central government funding for play, to enable local authorities to provide EVERY child with a safe, high-quality playground nearby.

Despite the release of the government’s Levelling Up strategy last week, there was notably nothing specifically related to children’s health and wellbeing. We are asking the government to allocate monies from the Levelling Up funds towards equal play; this simple ask would go a long way towards levelling up children’s play opportunities in the UK.

API Chair, Mark Hardy, says: ‘We are lobbying the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) to provide local authorities with access to a national funding stream for public playgrounds so that every child has a safe, local, high-quality place to play every day. The Government’s Levelling Up agenda must include children’s access to outdoor play; it is fundamental for childhood development and millions of children are being disadvantaged by this postcode lottery.

Nationally, play provision is extremely patchy, with some areas well-served and others woefully lacking. Cash-strapped Local Authorities face increasingly difficult choices in how they allocate their budgets, and funding for outdoor play areas is often sacrificed in favour of other demands, particularly over the last two years.

The closure of public play spaces during lockdown and the effects on children of Covid-19 restrictions has brought about a renewed appreciation by the public of the importance of these community assets. Providing all children with somewhere safe and local to play is a relatively inexpensive and simple public health measure and will help to help to tackle soaring childhood obesity rates and mental health issues – problems hugely exacerbated by the pandemic.’

Click here to read the Equal Play Report.


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