At at time when the media is coming in for a lot of criticism, I was beyond grateful to the Guardian this week for breaking the story about Wandsworth council charging £2.50 for access to its playgrounds.
Grateful because now people should realise just how devastating the cuts to children’s services will be.
I don’t blame folk for not understanding what’s going on when the government lies – like promising to protect Sure Start, (Sarah Teather, Children’s Minister “The Government is committed to improving support for families from all backgrounds.”) And when councils give phoney excuses for cuts of up to £20m which basically amount to ‘The Tories made me do it.’
Or worse, when they fob us off with statements like ‘Lambeth is not closing any Sure Start centres’ (Cllr Matt Bennett – Labour). When in fact they are reducing services to a fraction of what they should be, making professional Sure Start positions voluntary ones, leaving the normally enthusiastic, helpful staff unmotivated and unhappy….And guess what, all this achieves that happy goal of people just not bothering to attend anymore. Bam. Another cost centre to strike off the list. Another few quid saved.
But back to the playgrounds. Because, admittedly, Sure Start isn’t known to everyone and is, bewilderingly, the subject of a number of misapprehensions (baby yoga for the middle classes?) Everyone has enjoyed playgrounds at some time or another. They form a crucial part of that thing called ‘society’ which, very ironically, this government seems hell bent on destroying.
They’re vital outside space for those of us without gardens – I mean, with the Sure Starts closing, are we supposed to keep our kids cooped up in the flat all day? Don’t the government have obesity targets to meet?
They’re a place for children to socialise, yes that’s it – make friends with kids from all walks of life, and have a good time. Because, guess what Mr Cameron, even those with enormous gardens chock full of the latest garden activity sets – even they like to take their children to a park. To play. To kick a ball around with others. To race each other up the climbing frame.
They’re a place for adults to make friends too. They’re a source of civic pride. Oh good grief – you see how ridiculous this situation is? Having to justify something as germane to British life as playgrounds.
I went to my local children’s centre in Kennington on Thursday and told people about the situation in Lambeth – all playgrounds are closing apart from on Saturdays. They sat open mouthed. And these are mainly people with gardens, certainly not classified under ‘poor’. Over the other side, in Vauxhall, I feel a lot more guilty about raising the subject. There we have a grid-system of council flats and tower blocks. We live in the playgrounds. Much like many of the Wandsworth inhabitants do, and hundreds of thousands of others in the UK.
What do we do, everyone says. Have you spoken to the council? Yes – and had countless meetings cancelled, by email, with five minutes’ notice. Then councillors don’t reply to emails or letters, they don’t return calls. There are lobbies, demos at the council buildings…And the mouths grow wider. Because then it sinks in. All these terrible things are actually happening, to us and our children, in a society we thought was part of the free world. And the government stands back, having inflicted these cuts on children’s services, having reneged on all their pre-election promises, and looks away.
And who do we turn to? There’s no union representing parents. No union representing children.
That’s the government’s job.