Health effects of air pollution

Tackling air pollution in inner cities – what the evidence says and what people think

Our insights into clean air solutions include an evidence review of interventions in inner cities as well as public perception research on awareness levels, support for solutions and perceptions of who's responsible.

Air quality interventions in inner cities

Research we commissioned, including an evidence review by King’s College London, found:

  • There is little evidence of what works to reduce the effects of air pollution on people’s health ​
  • The strongest evidence is for solutions that reduce emissions at source, but many need action on a large scale and political support
  • There is a need for new interventions, products, and services​
  • Not all interventions will reduce both particulate matter (PM) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) – in fact, some may reduce one but increase the other
  • Each solution is likely to only have a small impact – a number of interventions are needed at once to have an impact on air quality overall and health
  • Feasibility and public acceptance is key, even for hyper-local solutions

Case studies for reducing the harmful health effects of air pollution

There is a pressing need to use the evidence we already have and overcome the structural and infrastructural, economic and political barriers that have been impeding our ability to improve air pollution. Our politicians and built environment professionals must be ready to listen to their communities’ concerns and take decisive action to address this major health issue.

Sarah Weir OBE Chief Executive, Design Council

What people think – local attitudes and awareness of air pollution

As part of the groundwork for our programme, we researched air pollution awareness among people living in our inner-city area. Together with partners including Global Action Plan, Opinium and BMG Research we did:

  • On-street interviews with 401 local residents
  • Focus groups, including one consisting of older people
  • A public perception survey of 1,033 local residents

Air pollution is a concern but not top of mind

In our surveys, only 12% mentioned air pollution as a concern when unprompted. Air pollution is less of a priority than issues such as crime.

My daughter is asthmatic and every time we go outside she’ll have a crisis. I’m scared to take her out.

On street survey respondent

There is some resistance to air quality initiatives

There has been resistance to increased parking charges, street closures near schools and charges on more polluting cars.

There are also concerns about the effect of clean air policies on small businesses, worried about paying the rent, and people on lower incomes.

I don't know who's lap that falls in, Transport for London, Mr. Sadiq Khan, he's running the show's higher than my pay grade, you know.

Taxi driver

Government should take responsibility

The majority of residents think local and central government should have responsibility for improving air pollution.

It’s important to note, however, that local authorities have to carefully balance improving air quality with other priorities such as economic growth and regeneration. For example, demand for more housing could cause construction-related air pollution.

Southwark isn’t an island, it’s next to Lambeth, it’s next to Lewisham. You don’t go through a wall from unpolluted air to polluted air, it’s all the same air, so everyone needs to do it, it needs to be a united thing.

Health condition focus group participant

Who should be responsible - and who currently is responsible - for improving the quality of air?

There is a role for business

People believe businesses have a role to play in tackling the problem, but to a lesser extent than the government.

The guy driving a beat-up transit van trying to make a living is not the real culprit. This needs to go to Amazon and the big companies.

Older person focus group participant

Socio-economic background is a factor

Support for measures to tackle air pollution is higher among those:

  • with a degree-level education
  • on higher incomes
  • living in the least deprived areas

Some groups are more supportive of action to tackle pollution than others

A majority of residents couldn’t think of a solution

52% of people we surveyed in Lambeth and Southwark couldn’t think of something that could tackle air pollution.

There is support for a raft of measures

When prompted by a list of possible ways to improve air quality in the area, clear majorities say they support a range of measures to tackle air pollution.

Clear majorities support each of the measures listed in the survey

Tackling traffic is the winner

Residents placed significantly more emphasis on tackling vehicle emissions than anything else.

The government should promote more new technology... help people buy electric cars or more efficient cars.

Survey respondent

Tackling vehicle emissions is significantly more popular than any other measure