Air pollution is making Liverpool more unequal
Dr. Rob Barnett, a GP from Liverpool, tells us about toxic air where he works and how it’s affecting local people’s health.
Helping Liverpool’s lungs
I’ve worked as a GP in Liverpool for over 30 years. Over the years I’ve treated thousands of people with lung conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma. I’ve seen high numbers of children admitted to hospital with asthma and have no doubt air pollution is making these conditions worse.
Driving inequality and poor health
Liverpool is a divided city when it comes to health. Life expectancy across the city is very variable, there is nearly a12-year difference in life expectancy across only a six-mile area. The average male life span in Childwall, for example, is 83.1 years. But for those living in Kirkdale ward, it is just 71.6. Levels of child poverty in Liverpool are some of the highest in the country and are highest in the northern wards of Liverpool.
You just have to walk around the places I’ve mentioned to see how many houses are located near to dirty and polluted main roads, and that many of these are where some of the poorest families live.
Toxic air outside my surgery
My GP practice is very close to a school and a busy road junction and during term time you can see the traffic idling every day. The fumes come out of the exhausts exactly at the height where children are breathing it in. I was also very worried about babies in buggies coming into our surgery. We knew that there were harmful and illegal levels of pollution on that road and carried out some monitoring with British Lung Foundation which showed just that.
We must clean up our roads
It’s not rocket science that reducing the number of polluting vehicles on our roads will greatly help tackle this problem. What we need is politicians to back this action. Merseyside is a hugely car dependent region so we also need to make sure affordable alternative are available for people. This must include cheaper and more accessible public transport, as well as safer paths for walking and cycling. These healthier travel choices won’t just help tackle air pollution but could also do wonders for people’s physical health by increasing opportunities to exercise in public.
During lockdown we’ve all been forced to embrace the great outdoors, this has been made so much nicer with the car-free streets and lower levels of pollution in many areas. While I’m sure we’re all looking forward to lockdown easing, politicians should learn from this time and make sure long-term changes are made in our communities to tackle toxic air for good.
Give your vote to a Mayor for clean air
I hope for a future where I will see fewer people in my surgery fighting for breath; where children can play safely on Liverpool’s streets and grow up breathing air that won’t leave them in hospital.
On May 6th we will all have the chance in Liverpool to vote for politicians who are serious about tackling this public health problem.