By Jacqueline O’Loughlin, Chief Executive of Playboard, www.playboard.org
Poverty is the greatest threat to the well-being of children and families across the UK impacting on every area of a child’s health, development and reducing expectations and aspirations for their future.
All too often poverty is viewed in almost exclusively financial or material terms. Whilst income remains the biggest single cause of child poverty it is important to recognise that for children poverty of experience can be as debilitating.
From PlayBoard’s perspective, play is the single most critical activity that children engage in. It provides a mechanism from birth to develop essential skills and understanding about the world around us. For children poverty is therefore as much about a lack of opportunity to engage in activities that support their inherent play needs and an inability to join in with ‘normal’ childhood activities such as participating in community play schemes.
Having no economic power, minimal political influence and limited opportunities to get their voices heard there is little that children can do to alleviate poverty.
It is therefore incumbent upon society to ensure that steps are taken to mitigate against its impact.
In 1991, the UK Government ratified the United Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). In doing so, it took on a duty to promote and protect the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of children including delivery of specific duties relating to child poverty.
Despite commitments to eradicate child poverty by 2020 we note little progress in Northern Ireland.
As lead organisation for play in Northern Ireland, PlayBoard strongly advocate that essential childhood experiences, such as play in the home, community or school should not we viewed as luxuries but legitimate priorities within the wider child poverty debate.
We are under no illusions, play alone will not end child poverty and its associated hardships, but it does offer a way of mitigating against the negative aspects of poverty.