A report released today by the National Children’s Bureau reveals an ugly truth. The number of children in the UK living in poverty is on the rise. In 1971, 2 million children were deemed to be living ‘in poverty’. Today it’s 3 million.
The report, ‘Greater Expectations’, isn’t just focussed on material poverty – not having things – but poverty of experience, too. Children growing up in poverty are nine times less likely than children in more affluent households to have access to green space, places to play and to live in environments with better air quality.
That’s 3 million children growing up in environmental poverty.
Our founder, Octavia Hill, was keenly aware of the nature deficit that often comes with poverty – particularly for those in urban areas.
Hill was a fierce campaigner for the right of all Londoners – especially those living in poverty – to have fair access to open green space. Nearly a century and a half ago, she wrote that there are ‘two great wants in the life of the poor of our large towns which ought to be realised more than they are – the want of space and the want of beauty’. For Octavia Hill, getting out into ‘open space’ and spending time in the beauty of nature helped people flourish and ‘become the men they are meant to be’.
The same is true today. People need nature. Many children living in poverty, the report makes stark, are not able to access nature. They don’t have the chance to become the people they were meant to be.
In the film Project Wild Thing, part of a wider campaign to reconnect children and nature that the National Trust is supporting, filmmaker David Bond meets Mason. Mason’s ten years old and living on an estate in east London within spitting distance of the City.
There isn’t very much green space near where Mason lives. In Project Wild Thing we see him staring through a wire fence at a dusty building site. ‘There was quite a bit of greenery around here, but they’ve put buildings onto it.’ He shrugs, ‘they’ve taken a lot of space from us and it’s not really fair I don’t think.’
Just down the road from Mason is Mile End Park – 90 acres of green space right in the East End. But Mason and his friends don’t play there. They can’t get to the park. They’re too scared of the older children who can run faster than them.
Like many children, Mason suffers from a poverty of experience. He doesn’t have the opportunity to access quality green space freely and regularly.
That’s not fair.
It’s one of the reasons why the National Trust is joining a whole host of others in supporting the Project Wild Thing campaign, launching on 25th October. We want to see all children have fair access to the amazing benefits nature and the outdoors provide. We want to make all children nature rich.