The way in which tough political decisions are made in the UK, or rather often not made, can be summarised by St Augustine’s anguished prayer. ‘Oh Lord, make me chaste. But not yet.’
The most infamous example in recent years is social care, but governments have long been adept at costing a policy, visualising passing this cost on to the electorate, and then kicking it into the long grass for someone else to pick up at a later date.
- The importance of understanding air pollution in nursing practice
- The air pollution crisis in the UK
- Stopping our cities smoking
It’s a time-dishonoured tradition, but at the moment, one that PM Rishi Sunak seemes to want to pass off as a virtue. Having pulled off a nervy by-election defence in London by running it as a referendum on the expansion of ultra low emission zones (ULEZ) which levy a charge on the most polluting cars, he has been emboldened to look askance at a whole package of environmental policies, the things one of his predecessors, David Cameron, called ‘green crap’.
Except ULEZ has never been about global warming. It is a response to a public health emergency. According to the Government’s own figures, man-made air pollution is responible for something like 30,000 deaths a year, and costs the NHS and social care around £200 million a year.
In London, the issue acquired an extra urgency, after an inquest in 2020 linked traffic fumes to the death of nine-year-old Ella Kissi-Debrah in Lewisham. And ULEZ is working. Since 2016, it has halved deadly nitrogen dioxide fumes, and produced a reduction in pollution five times the national average. London’s (and indeed the rest of the UK’s) children need this, and politicians to risk a little bit of unpopularity to roll this policy out. It’s time to take a deep breath... and stay the course.