Prime Minister Boris Johnson has promised a ‘people’s government’ that would ‘make this country the cleanest, greenest on earth’. When it comes to air quality, what is it that the people really want?
Over the past year, Global Action Plan has surveyed public attitudes on a regular basis. As the Prime Minister looks to unite the country, this issue already unifies the public with at least 75% of voters grading air pollution as a moderate or major priority for the country.
Here I can share exactly what the people ask of its people’s government. The PM can think of this as a handy to-do list as he seeks to ‘work night and day, flat out, to prove you right in voting for me’.
The majority of people want an end to air pollution, and only 11% believe that the government is doing enough. Action on pollution is more important to the public than issues that gain much greater attention. When asked to grade the importance of action on five issues (smoking, unhealthy eating, potholes, recycling and air pollution), 82% said that air pollution should be a moderate or major priority. This makes it the highest-rated issue (the other four issues ranging from 69% to 80%).
Perhaps the people’s government should give the people what they have asked for, with 65% of the public supporting a new clean air act (Friends of the Earth, 2017).
Six out of 10 people are somewhat or very concerned about the long-term health impacts of air pollution. But more than 7 out of 10 do not know where to go to get information on protecting their health.
When we asked people how helpful more guidance on air pollution would be, 76% said they would find it helpful to have a national campaign that explains how to reduce and avoid air pollution, more than the 70% who thought more guidance on healthy eating, physical activity (68%), sexual health (59%) and smoking (57%) would be helpful. Millions are spent on educating the public on these issues and to date, the Department of Health and Social Care hasn’t spent a penny on helping the public protect their health from air pollution.
We know that people’s choices can seriously affect how much pollution they breathe in when inside their homes and as they travel. People want and need advice from their government.
There is strong support for getting the country out of the car more frequently. When asked what people wanted to see happening to address air pollution, the top two answers were an increase in cycling and walking instead of driving (62%) and greater use of public transport instead of driving (54%).
Given that people also put action on pollution above action on potholes, it suggests that they want to see the active travel and public transport investment pledges in the Conservative manifesto rapidly enacted, with the £28bn of funding for the road network seeming less important.
Over half of schoolchildren in London are concerned about air pollution (Sustrans, 2018) and more than 2,000 primary schools in the country are in air pollution hotspots (Greenpeace, 2017). Urgent action is required, but it could be easy to implement. 59% of car owners and 59% of parents with children aged 16 or under already support temporary road closures outside schools at drop off and pick up times.
This is just one measure among many that would reduce the dangerous particles that children breathe in on their way to school and inside their classrooms. As the government implements its school building programme, it must prioritise clean air with the right ventilation, heating, furnishings, cleaning regime and car-free transport options incorporated into these new schools.
The public will likely have plenty to say in the Tory’s planned consultation on bringing forward the banning of diesel and petrol car from 2040. Already, half of the drivers would consider a fully electric vehicle as to the main car if its range is 200 miles (TRL, 2019) and this gets as high as 9 out of 10 people wanting an EV if its range is 300 miles. Also, 45% support exclusion of all but zero-emission cars from city centres, while only 25% oppose this target.
The people’s government must give people what they want – a great electric car. And business wants this too. The 40 signatories of the Clean Van Commitment (run by Global Action Plan with Engie and OLEV) have publicly stated a demand for electric vans that outstrips current supply to the entire UK market by 1,000%. But the van vehicle manufacturers are still focused on selling more diesel.
When the consultations begin with the car manufacturers over the 2040 target, the government must be sceptical of how quickly these companies say they can move to EVs as they are still investing in making and selling diesel. The government must also ensure that the cost burden of switching to EVs does not fall on the people. Having profited from causing pollution, surely it should be the polluters that pay for the switch to clean cars, and not taxpayer-funded subsidy, or excessive vehicle purchase prices.
*When no source is stated for public attitudes, they are taken from Global Action Plan’s Clean Air Public Insights Tracker [link to https://www.globalactionplan.org.uk/clean-air/clean-air-public-insight-tracker
] – a survey of 2,000 UK adults, repeated quarterly since December 2018.
Chris Large – Senior Partner Global Action Plan
Photo Credit – Pixabay