New research on UK pollution published today by the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) and Lancet Countdown collaboration shows that 44 UK cities are in breach of recommended World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines for air quality.
Published alongside global research into the impacts of climate change on the public, the research highlights how the UK government is failing to take advantage of the benefits of action on both.
Just one example is increasing ‘active travel’ investment to at least the £10 per capita pledged previously by the government. Such a change could result in enormous health and economic savings through the health benefits of physical activity, road traffic accidents prevented, cleaner air and lower emissions.
Such increased investment in sustainable modes of travel (such as walking, cycling and public transport) and electric vehicles all have the potential to unlock many health opportunities and to provide an average social return on investment of approximately £5.50 per £1 spent.
The research highlights that the government is currently falling well short in this area. Despite its immense public health potential, active travel investment currently represents only a tiny fraction of the £32 billion spent on transport annually. As of 2017, average UK-wide public spending on walking and cycling is £287 million per year (£4.30 per head). This is an improvement on previous years, but will fall to only £147 million by 2020 (Department for Transport). Given the documented links between transport choice, air quality and poverty, such improvements could have a real impact in helping to tackle health inequalities.