I am still on holiday, in acres of green space in North Wales. So the news today hit particularly hard: the number of children living in poverty in the UK has risen by a million in my generation.
A new report by the National Children’s Bureau compares the situation in 1971, when two million children were deemed to be living in poverty, with today. The figure is now three million.
The report sets out what these children are missing. It is eye-popping reading in 21st century Britain.
Children growing up in deprived areas are more likely to be underweight at birth, and obese in their teens. They are at much greater risk from accidental injury in the home and tend to perform worse at school.
The revelation from the report, though, is that children growing up in poverty are nine times less likely to have access to green space. They have far fewer places to play and tend to live in environments with poor air quality.
These three million children are not just growing up in material poverty, but in environmental poverty. They can not afford nature.
Making PROJECT WILD THING, I interviewed a ten-year old boy, Mason. A bright and charming kid with a cheeky smile, Mason lives on an east London estate. From the top of Mason’s tower, bank skyscrapers stretch out before you. But this is a world away from London’s square mile.
Mason took me on a tour of his estate. Around the courtyards, No Ball Games signs loomed over us. I asked Mason what would happen if he played with a football here. “Oh”, he shrugged, “we’d probably just get an ASBO or something”.
I followed Mason to a scrap of green, little more than a verge the size of a large rug. ‘We call this the green grass’, he said. The green grass was strewn with dog mess.
Mason would like to play in a calm, green park. He pointed through a wire fence into a dusty building site. “There was quite a bit of greenery around here, but they’ve put buildings onto it.” He sighed. “They’ve taken a lot of space from us and it’s not really fair I don’t think.”
Just down the road is Mile End Park – 90 acres of green space in the heart of East London. But Mason and his friends do not play there. They cannot get there. They are too scared of the traffic, the older children (who can run faster) and the crime.
Mason is not materially poor like the children described in today’s report. But, like many, he suffers from a poverty of experience. He does not have the free and regular chance to get to love a local green space.
People need nature. They need space. Nearly a century and a half ago, conservationist and anti-poverty campaigner Octavia Hill wrote that there are “two great wants in the life of the poor of our large towns…the want of space and the want of beauty”.
Nothing has changed.
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