Labour constituents among those most at risk if green policies eroded
NEW ANALYSIS: Labour constituents among those most at risk if green policies eroded
- One in five neighbourhoods within Labour constituencies are blighted by dangerously high air pollution, at double World Health Organisation recommended levels
- A staggering 55% of homes in Labour seats are without adequate, cost-saving insulation, and more than a third of neighbourhoods are struggling most with energy affordability
- Labour constituencies are also the most nature-deprived nationwide, with fewer green spaces that are vital for health and mitigating against climate change
- Data by every constituency in England and Wales is available here
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With the Labour Party’s annual conference due to kick off this weekend in Liverpool, Friends of the Earth is urging Keir Starmer to stand strong on environmental protections, which must remain at the forefront of Labour’s agenda to honour its vision for a fairer, greener future – as set out at last year’s gathering.
New analysis by the environmental justice organisation shows how people living in Labour held areas are among those most at risk from toxic air pollution, soaring energy bills, and lack of access to the health and climate benefits of living close to green spaces, unless urgent action is taken to address the glaring gaps in existing policies to tackle the climate and nature crises.
To reduce inequality, which has long been at the heart of the Labour movement, Friends of the Earth says the party must ensure these issues remain a top priority in the run up to the next general election. Clean air, investing in public transport, harnessing the power of homegrown renewables, protecting nature and rolling out energy efficiency measures will benefit our health, bring down bills, create jobs and boost the economy.
Action on air pollution saves lives, the NHS and the economy
According to Friends of the Earth’s analysis, one in five neighbourhoods in Labour seats have the dirtiest air in the country, at double World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended levels for the pollutant nitrogen oxide (NO2), compared to just 2% in Conservative constituencies. These Labour areas are home to five million people – including one million children, who are more susceptible to the health effects of dirty air which can impair developing lungs.
Measures to reduce road traffic and encourage cleaner travel have recently come under attack from the government. Yet these policies are primarily designed to address health inequalities arising from air pollution, which contributes to up to 36,000 premature deaths a year in the UK, while simultaneously benefiting the climate. Given that dirty air also disproportionately impacts marginalised communities, including people of colour, efforts to delay the transition to greener transport are clearly anything but fair.
There is also a strong economic argument for tackling air pollution, which is estimated to cost the UK economy £20 billion annually through NHS costs and lost workdays due to illness.
Insulate homes to ease the cost of living crisis
In June, Keir Starmer set out his plan to make Britain a clean energy superpower if Labour win the next election. His party must stick to its commitment to invest £6bn per year on a street-by-street home retrofit programme of energy efficiency measures, prioritising those who need it most first, in order to fulfil its responsibility to help the hardest up households grappling with soaring living costs.
The new analysis shows just how crucial this is for Labour in particular – with a whopping 55% of homes in areas held by Labour MPs poorly insulated. Research by the New Economics Foundation last year found that bringing the worst homes up to standard would save the average household up to £720 annually on their bills.
What’s more, over a third of neighbourhoods in Labour constituencies have been identified as ‘energy crisis hotspots’ – areas where energy use is high, often due to poor insulation, and incomes are below the national average. This compares to a quarter within Conservative areas. Of those deemed marginal seats for Labour to target in the upcoming election, a third fall into this category – meaning sky-high bills are likely to be a leading issue at the polls next year.
2022 saw fossil fuel firms raking in record-breaking earnings from soaring gas and oil prices, much to the detriment of those who have been struggling to afford their sky-high energy bills. Getting off costly gas for good and accelerating the transition to cheap, homegrown renewable energy is also central to bringing down bills quickly – the Labour Party must strengthen its commitment to phasing out fossil fuels by rejecting all new oil and gas licenses in the North Sea.
Improving access to nature for health and wellbeing
Friends of the Earth has found that 56% of neighbourhoods in Labour constituencies lack adequate access to green space, compared to just 25% within Conservative areas. Areas that are the most nature-depleted have fewer parks, as well as no or very tiny gardens. Green space is recognised as important to mental health and wellbeing, while trees play an important role in improving air quality and can help to absorb harmful gases and particles from the air.
In July, Friends of the Earth also revealed the vital cooling effect of green spaces during periods of intense heat which will become more likely as climate change worsens, making the case for nature’s recovery as an important climate adaptation measure in the most built-up areas, where incomes are often lower.
Mike Childs, head of policy at Friends of the Earth, said:
“Keir Starmer needs to stand firm and commit Labour to tackling the environmental harms that are so damaging to people’s health, the economy, and the future prospects of young people.
“With inequalities only widening, it’s not a huge surprise that air pollution and poor housing disproportionately impact people on the lowest incomes and marginalised communities. Our new analysis demonstrates just how important these issues are to people living in existing and target Labour seats.
“The Labour leader must truly put the best interests of people and the planet above short-termism by showing he has a real vision for the future, which is green, prosperous and crucially, fair.”