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Clean Air Day 2024

To mark Clean Air Day, Gobal Action Plan have released the results of new research which shows that most people in the UK are concerned about the impact of air pollution on their health.

At a time when air quality is being politicised in the run up to a general election, Global Action Plan’s research, undertaken on their behalf by Opinium, found that 75% of the population felt that ambient air pollution affected their health, while over half are worried about the long term impact of poor air quality.

80% of the 2,000 people spoken to thought that politicians should be taking action to improve air quality, and there was support for increased investment in both public transport (72%) and cycling infrastructure (61%)

Supporters of Clean Air Day are getting behind calls including creating an integrated transport strategy with active travel and a thriving public transport network at its heart, reforming rail fares and ticketing, keeping pavements car-free, and shifting investment to public transport and active travel so new and existing communities can have reliable transport options.

Tessa Bartholomew-Good, Head of Campaigns (Clean Air) at Global Action Plan said: ‘Air pollution affects everyone’s health, no matter who you are or where you live. Our new data demonstrates that the British public are deeply concerned about the impacts of breathing toxic air on their health and want to see ambitious and bold action to deliver cleaner air from the next government.

‘The solutions already exist to decrease air pollution. If you think that everyone in the UK deserves to breathe safer air, use your voice to call on the next government to ensure that we all have the option to walk, wheel, cycle or use public transport to get around our towns and cities, by signing our petition at cleanairday.org.uk.’

Paul McDonald, Chief Campaigns Officer for Health Equals, who have partnered with Global Action Plan to deliver Clean Air Day this year, commented: ‘Our health is shaped by the world around us: where we live, work and play; so, when people live in areas with high air pollution, or don’t have access to reliable and affordable public transport, it means that they are more likely to have poorer health. These findings clearly show that the public are ahead of decision makers in wanting to prioritise good health and wellbeing, by prioritising clean air. We know that change is possible, which is why we are proud to be working in partnership with Global Action Plan to deliver Clean Air Day and call on politicians to act now to clean up our air and stop lives from being cut short.’

Air pollution is the biggest environmental threat to our health in the UK. People may be exposed to higher levels of air pollution because of where they live – for example, in a town or city, or near a busy road – and certain people are more vulnerable to its affects (including children, the elderly, and people with health conditions).

Global Action Plan spoke to members of the public to understand their concerns around air pollution and how it affects their daily lives.

Beth, an arts and crafts enthusiast who works in horticulture, based in Salford, commented: ‘I had childhood asthma, and then we moved somewhere more rural when I got a little bit older, and it completely went away. Since moving back to a city, because I can’t really afford not to live in a city, I live right by a big roundabout and over the past four or five years I’ve just got asthma again. I’m only in my late twenties, so it’s kind of evidenced that where I’m living is affecting my health quite substantially. We have lots of people in really big cars who will start their engines before they even come out of the house in the morning, like warm their cars up, leave their engines running. I feel like maybe the education just isn’t there, and people don’t realise who they are affecting or that they are affecting themselves. I find it frustrating.’

Alastair, a disabled project manager and parent based in Birmingham said: ‘My daughter is two years old, and she was diagnosed with asthma at one. […] We live in a suburban area in Birmingham, and currently everyone cuts through it because they don’t want to use the main road, and because our road looks like a dual carriageway, we get a lot of cars streaming by and queuing up. You can see [its effects] on my daughter, she coughs at night, and she coughs in the morning, and it’s really quite harrowing for me to see that.

‘It’s difficult because, at least in Birmingham, it’s the working-class areas, the areas where the property prices are lower, that end up getting driven through. We’re a young couple, we’ve got a young child, we’re paying for childcare fees, we live in an area that isn’t very well off, and so ours gets driven through, and it’s usually the people who are driving through from the richer areas that are doing it. There’s that inequality aspect – it feels very unfair to me that my daughter is the one that’s suffering, and I’m sure my neighbour’s kids are as well, so some rich person can drive their gas-guzzling SUV through and end up affecting my child.’

Alma, a healthcare administrator who loves to garden, based in Salford, added: ‘I probably have more concerns now [about air pollution] than I think I’ve ever had. […] I live close to the M602, I’m probably a two-minute walk away, and my windowsills inside are continuously covered with black dust, and I’m thinking if that is settling on my windowsills it’s also settling in my lungs. We’ve got kids but they don’t live at home and they are not young, but I hate to think about people like our neighbours who have babies. It just doesn’t seem like there is anything happening locally or nationally to improve that level of pollution.’

Paul Day
Paul is the editor of Public Sector News.

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