A crucial part of the Prime Minister’s schedule for easing lockdown restrictions must be how we deal with its negative impact on children’s mental and physical health.
Re-opening schools, investment in the physical infrastructure of play, allowing children’s organised team sports and investment in child mental health services are all steps we must take at the earliest opportunity.
Two reports set out the facts on school re-opening that we have to balance. The first, by Dr Mike Tildesley and Dr Edward Hill, found no evidence schools were responsible for spreading Covid. The second, by Prof Russell Viner, found school closures to be “associated with considerable harms to children and young people’s health and wellbeing.” Scientific evidence does not justify the continued closure of schools and we must reopen on March 8.
In Bury, we have excellent parks, but we must look to invest in facilities, clubs and activities to allow each child the opportunity to play and interact with others near their homes. The importance of countryside and open spaces to our general wellbeing has been clear throughout the pandemic and we should desist from further plans to destroy large areas of the green belt. Our children must have access to natural playgrounds for exercise, enjoyment, access to wildlife and a place to meet their friends. This must be part of our public health messaging.
Children's team sports must be allowed at the earliest opportunity. Exercise is key to improving young people’s mental and physical health. I have not been provided with any medical evidence to show such activity is a major vector of Covid transmission. It is an assessment of risk politicians must make but not allowing kids to play competitive sports with their friends is not only positive for them but also their families who can watch games socially distanced. I have seen first-hand how volunteer coaches like Danny Grundy, Andy Robinson, Richard Birtwistle, Lee Dickinson, Paul Kent and many others give endless time and commitment to the sporting development of children and the endless positives this brings. We must strive to ensure kids, no matter their age, background and perceived ability have the opportunity to participate in such activity. Finally, we must invest heavily in mental health provision to ensure whatever unique challenges our children are facing they have access to the support they need.