14 Oct 2014

Every child in Birmingham should be given free entry to the city’s cultural and sporting events to tackle the divide between the haves and have-nots, according to a panel of experts.

The independent Birmingham Commission for Children – backed by The Children’s Society – studied the views of children and young people on what it is like to grow up in the city, and sought to find out how their health and education can be improved over the next decade.

The Commission’s final report, It Takes a City to Raise a Child, published today, includes a series of recommendations to Birmingham City Council and other organisations.

Top among them is a call to bring together leaders and businesses to guarantee an 'entitlement offer' for the city’s children and young people, providing them free access to cultural or sporting venues and opportunities to try new activities or learn new skills to help get them into work.

The Council should play a role in co-ordinating pledges but it cannot deliver this offer alone, the report says. It is the responsibility of the whole city – football clubs, cultural venues and employers – to pledge what they can to make it happen.

The call follows the panel’s finding that the high level of child poverty in parts of Birmingham is hindering children’s access to activities and services, damaging their chances of getting on in life. The proportion of Birmingham children living in poverty, 31%, is higher than the 27% UK average.

The report describes Birmingham as 'a city rich in cultural and sporting assets', with thousands of successful businesses offering employment opportunities. But while many of them want to support the city’s young people they lack the organisation to make it happen – and too many children are missing out.

The report says this must change and calls on organisations ranging from the Council to faith groups, charities, schools, local councillors, businesses, cultural institutions, sports clubs and facilities, to pledge their support to make sure all children can benefit from the opportunities the city has to offer.

They can do this, the report says, by giving young people the chance to experience 'world class music or performance', to take part in dance and sport, to receive extra advanced tuition in an area in which they excel, to 'move safely around the city', to meet other young people from different parts of the city, to learn about other cultures or religions and to experience part-time paid work.

The report says: 'Every child and young person should get the chance to have the same kinds of experiences as their peers across the city… It is clear that it will be easier to achieve this entitlement for some children than it is for others.'

The city will need to work hard to make sure that 'those children most likely to miss out are able to benefit,' it adds.

The Commission also wants local action to improve children’s safety in local parks and other open spaces, after it found that children and young people feel they lack safe, affordable spaces and activities to be with friends and family.

The report says: 'Birmingham is a city rich in local assets – parks and open spaces are free and open to all to use. However, we heard a strong view from children, young people and their families, that they did not feel these places were safe for them, or that they didn’t feel safe walking or travelling to them by bus.'

The Commission is also calling for young people to be given the chance to debate and influence policy and funding priorities for the year ahead in each district of the city, to give them more of a say on the issues that matter to them.

A further recommendation is for the city to hold an annual 'children’s day' when high streets would be encouraged to welcome children into shops, and parks would be given over to children’s activities.

The Birmingham Commission for Children, which was set up by The Children’s Society and commissioned by Birmingham City Council, was asked to challenge and scrutinise the Council’s plans to develop new services to support children and young people.

The panel of five professionals – who between them have more than 100 years’ experience working to help children, young people and communities – held a number of hearings to take evidence from adults and also heard the views of almost 1,000 young people, aged five to 18, through written submissions and focus groups run by The Children’s Society.

The decision to set up the Commission came against a backdrop of research that showed the health and well-being of children in Birmingham is generally worse than the England average, as are rates of infant mortality, family homelessness and obesity.

Janet Grauberg, Chair of the Birmingham Commission for Children, said: 'Birmingham is a fantastic city with world class culture, sport and companies and every child deserves to get the most out of it. We have set out a vision for children and young people in Birmingham that we hope will be a reality for those growing up in this city in 10 years’ time – a city that is proud of its children, where they feel their voices are listened to and which is safe.

'We heard real optimism about the city’s future and a desire for every Birmingham child to be given the opportunity to flourish.  We hope city leaders will seize this chance to make a long-lasting difference to the future of Birmingham’s children.'

Rob Willoughby, Area Director for The Children’s Society in the West Midlands, said: 'Too many children in Birmingham feel like there is a huge ‘no entry’ sign blocking them from swathes of the city. Too many children in Birmingham are isolated from what the city has to offer, whether that’s services, attractions, events and amenities. Young people have told us that there aren’t enough safe spaces to go to play, and there aren’t enough places to go where they feel welcome, and this needs to change. Indeed, children should be given the freedom of the city.'

Media enquiries

For more information, please call The Children’s Society’s media team on 020 7841 4422 or email media@childrenssociety.org.uk. For out-of-hours enquiries please call 07810 796 508.

Notes to editor

  • The chair of the Commission, Janet Grauberg, a senior leader in public and social policy with experience across central and local government and the voluntary sector, is available for interview. Other Commissioners include Christine Davies CBE, Dr Angela Donkin, David Hughes and Jehangir Malik.
  • The Commission’s work has been supported by Innovation Unit, the innovation partner for public services.
  • Statistics on child poverty are taken from the End Child Poverty coalition.
  • For more information about the Commission, including biographies of the Commissioners, visit: www.childrenssociety.org.uk/BirminghamCommission.
  • The Children’s Society has helped change children’s stories for over a century. We expose injustice and address hard truths, tackling child poverty and neglect head-on. We fight for change based on the experiences of every child we work with and the solid evidence we gather. Through our campaigning, commitment and care, we are determined to give every child in this country the greatest possible chance in life.