It’s time to put children first

Children are the invisible victims of the coronavirus pandemic. As lockdown eases, it is time to prioritise their right to play.

LONDON PLAY STATEMENT

Publication

For the last two months, children have been forbidden from playing with children outside their own households. Playgrounds have been closed and although ‘exercise’ has been accepted as a valid reason to leave the house, ‘play’ has not. Now, as the lockdown eases, children’s human right and need to play is again being neglected. Allowing people to meet ‘one other person’ in the park excludes children and their families from the same right that single adults currently enjoy, to have social contact beyond their household.

This is perhaps inevitable when there is no voice for children at cabinet level; no one responsible in government for children’s wellbeing in regard to play. The focus on education to the exclusion of all else conceives of children solely as economic entities of the future. But they are people, whose formative experiences will affect them now and forever – and shape society for a long time to come.

Risk vs benefit

The government now deems that the risk of sending some children back to school is acceptable. This may help meet the educational needs of the small proportion that attend – but does not address equally important emotional and physical needs; for them or the many who will not be returning this term. Play is how children make sense of the world, and as they emerge into a radically changed landscape after two months of isolation, they need it now more than ever.

It is becoming increasingly clear that the risk to children (and their families) of allowing them to play outside is very low.

Children do not become infected as easily as adults. If they are infected, children are extremely unlikely to become seriously ill with the disease, and many are asymptomatic. The overall trend emerging from the evidence to date suggests that children have a limited role in spreading the virus – partly due to the mildness of symptoms. Finally, the risk of outdoor transmission is low.

London Play sees a bigger risk in continuing to deprive children of play and opportunities to socialise. Prior to the pandemic, one in 10 children and young people suffered from poor mental health. In the early phases of the lockdown, 83 per cent of young people surveyed by Young Minds reported that the coronavirus pandemic has made their mental health worse. What about now, two months on? In London, some 37 per cent of children were living in poverty prior to the pandemic hitting; this will only rise. One in five children in the capital lives in an overcrowded home and many do not have access to their own outside space.

For all these reasons, children need to play; and the government must act decisively now to make sure they can do so. London Play is calling on the government to make children’s wellbeing a priority as it prepares to announce the next steps out of lockdown.

We strongly recommend the following steps:

• Commit to a principle of easing lockdown in ways that prioritise the wellbeing of children and families.
• Implement a framework to comprehensively assess the impact lockdown has had on children’s lives and take steps to support children’s right to emotional wellbeing through play.
• The government should seriously consider allowing children from two households to meet and play together outside in public – in the park or in their street – without social distancing, as long as neither family has contact with vulnerable people.

Summer is a long time in the life of a seven year old. We cannot wait any longer to act.

London Play in the news
London Play has joined academics and other play campaigners in calling on the government to support 'a summer of play' to help children recover from the stress of lockdown and a year of Covid upheaval.
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