Health minister blames parents for air pollution outside schools

Parents who drive their children to school instead of using active travel are partly to blame for air pollution, a health minister has said.

Jackie Doyle-Price MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for mental health and suicide prevention, made the comments during Health Questions in the House of Commons this week.

She said that while the government is looking to tackle poor air quality, it must also encourage individuals to take responsibility for their actions.

Doyle-Price claimed that the government’s Clean Air Strategy included measures to reduce overall air pollution levels and have fewer cars on the roads.

She added: ‘We need to be much more vigilant in advising the public of the risks to this, and including actually how they use their cars.

‘The time was when I went to school I used to walk there. Too often we see parents dropping their kids off with idling engines that cause pollution.’

The health minister was responding to a question by the Scottish Lib Dem MP Christine Jardine about what the government is doing to stop children being affected by polluted roads.

According to figures raised by the Edinburgh West MP, 2,000 nurseries in the UK live close to roads whose levels of air pollution are dangerously high, while children who grow up living within 75 metres of a polluted road have a 29% increased risk of contracting lifelong asthma.

Doyle-Price’s response was criticised by Labour MP Barry Sheerman, who called the government’s efforts on air pollution ‘warm words’.

Sheerman said that the government’s plans currently ‘are to tackle the poisonous air that our children are breathing, pregnant women are breathing, by 2040,’ adding: ‘The fact is that children are being poisoned now.’

Doyle-Price concluded that while the government is working with Defra, work must also go into changing public behaviour and more open debate about the consequences of poor air.

The Clean Air Strategy, published last month, was criticised for featuring no new measures to combat transport air pollution, with the government only reaffirming last year’s pledge to end the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2040.

Several local authorities are taking creative approaches when it comes to tackling poor air quality for children on their way in and out of school.

Last week Glasgow City Council announced it will trial car-free zones outside seven primary schools across Glasgow. Meanwhile, Leeds City Council has given hundreds of scooters to 30 primary schools in a bid to reduce the number of cars outside schools at peak times.

Jane Dutton of Mums for Lungs, a London-based parents’ campaign group against air pollution, said tackling poor air quality outside schools is not just the responsibility of parents, but is a ‘multi-faceted issue’.

‘We need more investment in public transport and cycling and walking schemes to make those a much easier, more attractive and affordable alternative for commuters,’ Dutton told AQN.

Options that should be considered to tackle the issue include the introduction of more low emission neighbourhoods as well as larger public awareness campaigns, the group said.