Millions suffer from effects of toxic air, our alert system needs updating to protect them

There are an estimated 3.4 million people in the UK living with lung conditions asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) that are made worse by toxic air. Days of high air pollution can bring about terrifying bouts of breathlessness, coughing, wheezing and other symptoms, which can be fatal.

Air pollution doesn’t just affect people already living with lung diseases – it affects us all. One baby is born every two minutes in the UK into areas of high air pollution, potentially setting them up for a lifetime of poor health. Dirty air can stunt lung growth in children, create new lung conditions and, ultimately, it’s responsible for an estimated 36,000 premature deaths a year in the UK. It’s a public health emergency.

Given the scale and severity of the threat posed by toxic air, the government’s air pollution alert system should be an integral part of helping people to plan their days when air pollution is high in order to reduce their exposure to harmful pollutants. The Daily Air Quality Index (DAQI) forecasts air pollution levels across the country, and issues alerts when air pollution levels reach a certain threshold, warning people there’s a significant danger to public health and advising them to modify their behaviour if necessary. The alert advises those who are at greatest risk, including people with lung and heart problems, to reduce their levels of physical exertion, particularly outdoors.

The effectiveness of the alert system is seriously limited because most people don’t know it exists. Our survey of people with lung conditions found about two thirds (62%) of them were unaware of the DAQI. There’s very limited access to accurate data for the general public at the local level, and no disease-specific guidance from government on how people can best protect themselves against the health effects of dirty air. The alerts provide blanket ‘reduce physical exertion outdoors’ message – it’s not particularly helpful or realistic – what if someone has to run to catch their train to work? Also, for people with lung conditions, exercise is a crucial to staying well and managing their lung condition.


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There’s also a question mark over the thresholds at which the DAQI categorises air pollution levels as ‘low’, ‘medium’ or ‘high’. New research comes to light regularly about the dangers air pollution poses to our health, and last year the World Health Organization radically reduced the limit values under its Air Quality Guidelines to reflect the fact that there is no safe level of air pollution to breathe in. This means that the DAQI’s thresholds are becoming increasingly out of date and should really be amended to reflect our increasing understanding of how seriously air pollution can affect health. The government also needs to develop an alert for fine particulate matter pollution, as this is the most dangerous pollutant to human health.

People with lung conditions tell us that they often feel the effects of air pollution, even on days when there is no alert. The alerts should be the canaries in the coalmine, not people with lung conditions.

At Asthma + Lung UK we’re campaigning for the government to be bolder in its approach to tackling air pollution. But what we’re currently not seeing in the alert system is enough information warning about the health effects of air pollution nor messaging that puts the responsibility on polluters to reduce their contribution to the country’s lethal air. The alerts are basically a sticking plaster, telling those at greatest risk that they must change their behaviour and reduce their exposure, rather than issuing useful advice and information that will help address and change behaviours aimed at tackling the root causes of the problem.

The effects of air pollution are monumental. We need to take action to protect all our health both now and in the future. That includes setting more ambitious targets on the pollutants that pose the greatest health risks, that see us comply with World Health Organization interim guidelines by 2030 at the latest. But it also means developing a more sophisticated alert system to help people most at risk to better manage their activities during high pollution episodes, and make the wider public more aware of the dangers posed by dirty air.

Come and talk to me in Parliament…

Parliament holds the key to improving the air we breathe and raising awareness of the dangers of air pollution. For a week from 18 July, Asthma + Lung UK will be hosting a stand in the Upper Waiting Hall in Westminster to discuss toxic air, its effects on health and the need to improve the availability of public health information and monitoring across the country. Please stop by and chat to me and the rest of the charity’s clean air experts about how we can work together to improve air pollution in every community across the country, including working with trusted sources like charities and healthcare professionals to promote the alert system and keep everyone safe.

For further information or to make an appointment to meet in person email: policy@asthmaandlung.org.uk

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The Full Monty Actor Hugo Speer Axed From Reboot After ‘Inappropriate Conduct’ Allegations

The Full Monty actor Hugo Speer has been axed from an upcoming TV revival of the hit film after alleged “inappropriate conduct” on set.

Speer played Guy in the Oscar-nominated comedy, which centred around a group of unemployed former steel workers who form a striptease act in order to raise money.

The film is currently being rebooted for a new TV adaptation on Disney+, with much of its original cast set to return.

However, it’s now been confirmed that Speer has been removed from the project following an investigation.

A Disney representative said: “Recently, we were made aware of allegations of inappropriate conduct by Hugo Speer on the set of a commissioned production.

“As is policy, an investigation was launched. Upon its completion, the decision was made to terminate his contract, with immediate effect.”

A spokesperson for Speer said the British actor “denies all allegations” and is “challenging all of them”.

The cast of The Full Monty on stage in 1997

20th Century Fox/Kobal/Shutterstock

As well as The Full Monty, Speer has appeared in the TV shows Echo Beach, The Musketeers, London Kills and Marcella, as well as the films Nymphomaniac and The Interpreter.

Robert Carlyle, Mark Addy, Lesley Sharp and Paul Barber are all set to reprise their roles in the forthcoming Full Monty reboot, which will pick up in Sheffield in the present day, 25 years after the events of the first film.

The Full Monty was a success the world over upon its release in 1997, and even went on to land a Best Picture nomination at the Academy Awards the following year.

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Labour slam ‘pathetic’ government plans to reduce childcare costs

Labour has today branded the government’s new childcare plans “pathetic”.

The government said that in order to “drive down costs for providers and parents” it will consider slashing required staff-to-child ratios from 1:4 to 1:5 for two-year-olds.

Childcare for children aged 0-2 is the most expensive for providers to deliver, largely given the need for higher supervision levels.

The government argued that these plans could reduce the cost of such childcare by up to 15 per cent, or up to £40 per week for a family paying £265 per week for care for their 2-year-old.


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The government currently offers 15 hours per week of free childcare or early education for all 

3- and 4-year-olds, rising to 30 hours for working families, and 15 hours for disadvantaged 2-year-olds.

The government also highlighted the reduced costs of childminders compared to nurseries and said they would give people in this role new flexibility, such as allowing them to work in a local community centre rather than their own home and “reducing” their Ofsted checks.

The government has also announced an additional £10 million investment for Maintained Nursery Schools.

Shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson said the announcement  was “pathetic” and that it “fails to deliver the ambition families need to tackle spiralling childcare costs.”

She continued: “Tweaking ratios is not the answer parents want and not the answer children need. The vast majority of providers have made clear this would make no difference to costs for parents. What’s more, parents have said the current system of tax-free childcare is too complex to use even once explained. The government is out of ideas and failing children and families alike.”

Joeli Brearley told The Guardian that research by her charity Pregnant Then Screwed, found that just 2 per cent of nurseries and preschools would reduce fees if the plans went ahead – as they would be unlikely to relax ratios – and that those who did would only lower fees by around £2 per week.

Brearley explained: “We’re furious that after months and months of talking to the government, showing them data that, for two-thirds of families, childcare costs the same or more than their rent or mortgage and is pushing parents into poverty, children into poverty, they’ve come up with a proposal to change ratios that won’t reduce costs for parents but will just reduce quality.

Annabel Denham of free-market think tank the Institute of Economic Affairs said that “[childcare] subsidies cost the taxpayer at least £6bn per year, yet parents here pay on average three times more than those in France or Germany. It is, therefore, encouraging that ministers are exploring how deregulation – rather than yet more government spending that would fail to address the underlying problems – can drive down costs.

“The renewed emphasis on childminders, whose numbers plummeted as the sector became increasingly formalised, is welcome,” but that: “As with any attempt to slash red tape, these measures will be met with fierce opposition by vested interests – such as companies that have already had to adapt to these restrictive rules, or individuals who believe the state can do a better job of raising children than parents. Ministers should proceed regardless.”

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady accused the government of making childcare policies “on the hoof”, stating that while “high-quality affordable childcare should be available for all… too many parents are spending a massive slice of their pay packets on rising childcare costs, while their wages stagnate. 

“These proposals won’t help. Cutting staffing ratios will just put more pressure on underpaid and undervalued childcare workers,” she went on.

The cost of childcare for parents with children under two has increased by more than £2,000 a year since 2010, according to a recent analysis published by the trade union.

Minister for children and families Will Quince upon the publication of the new plans: “I’m proud of the excellent quality of childcare and early education in England, which is a huge asset to working parents. But too many are struggling to balance work with childcare costs.

He went on: “We know there are thousands of parents who are eligible for government support but not taking it up. That’s why we want to increase awareness of the existing childcare offers, allow providers to provide services more flexibly and make sure funding gets where it is needed most.

 

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