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Laurie Penny: As they welcome their new daughter, the Camerons should think of the children

The Camerons might consider how coalition cuts will affect the babies born in Britain today

Along with 2,000 other women in Britain and approximately 450,000 women across the world, Samantha Cameron gave birth to a child today. The baby is a girl -- and she is lucky. Her parents are lavishly well-off members of the political ruling class in one of the richest nations in the world, with a combined yearly salary that puts them well into the top 1 per cent of earners. Mum and Dad own a property empire worth millions, and hold the keys to No 10.

Little Miss Cameron will spend her earliest years in the media spotlight, but she can at least count on an excellent education at a top state primary school, such as St Mary Abbots in Kensington, which her sister Nancy currently attends, alongside many privileged sons and daughters of the financial and political elite. She will have every possible attention paid to her developmental, emotional and physical needs; she will have plenty of good food, presents, holidays in the sun and lots of love and care from her parents and an army of support staff.

She will have no problem paying for university, even though, thanks to her father's government, the costs of attending are likely to be significantly higher by the time she enters. She will easily be able to finance herself through internships and work placements to buy her entry into an elite job. She will never know hunger, or hopelessness, or financial uncertainty. For the newest addition to the Cameron clan, life will be easy and comfortable. For most of the other babies born today, however, the outlook is less rosy.

On a day when his new government's approval ratings are lower than at any point since the general election, Cameron's new bundle of electoral joy may well serve to remind dillusioned Tory defectors that the Conservatives really are the party of "the family" -- especially the heterosexual, heteronormative, married, double-earning, higher-income, upper-middle-class family. Let's not forget, however, that on the day that David and Samantha Cameron welcomed their fourth child, 700 babies were born into poverty in Britain. And they are in for a tough ride.

The austerity cuts imposed by Cameron's coalition government will hit these newborns' families hard, meaning that many of them will enjoy a much lower standard of living than they could have expected under Labour. Their parents may not be able to afford to feed them a healthy, balanced diet or to give them birthday and Christmas presents. They will attend whichever local school can afford to take them, including some 200 state schools whose promised funding for badly needed building restoration has just been withdrawn by the coalition. After the signalled cuts to housing benefit come into force, many of them will grow up in cramped, unhealthy, substandard accommodation far from local amenities.

The babies born to poor families today will be less likely to achieve their potential at school, less likely to be able to afford to attend university or further education and more likely to suffer from mental health problems such as depression, anxiety and panic disorder than those born to wealthy families. Before 24 August 2012, these poorer babies will already be significantly more likely to exhibit lower levels of attainment and well-being than children from better-off families; by 2016, less able children from families such as the Camerons will have overtaken more able children from lower-income families.

In addition, the children who were born today in inner Manchester are already likely to die six years earlier than babies born to families in the Camerons' Notting Hill quarter, in London. Child poverty and inequality were not eradicated under Labour, but the austerity cuts imposed by David Cameron's government could spell disaster for the hundreds of children born today into less fortunate households -- particularly those born to single parents, over whom the axe of economic judgement is casting a long shadow.

David Cameron and his family will be celebrating the birth of their daughter today, and rightly so. If he is serious about building a society in which every child can thrive, however, the Prime Minister may want to remember those 700 babies being born into poverty in Britain in the course of the day, and ask himself how his policymaking will affect their future. Cameron the family man has a duty to protect every child in Britain, not just those who, like his new baby girl, are fortunate enough to be born to wealthy couples.

Laurie Penny is a contributing editor to the New Statesman. She is the author of five books, most recently Unspeakable Things.

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Air pollution: 5 steps to vanquishing an invisible killer

A new report looks at the economics of air pollution. 

110, 150, 520... These chilling statistics are the number of deaths attributable to particulate air pollution for the cities of Southampton, Nottingham and Birmingham in 2010 respectively. Or how about 40,000 - that is the total number of UK deaths per year that are attributable the combined effects of particulate matter (PM2.5) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx).

This situation sucks, to say the very least. But while there are no dramatic images to stir up action, these deaths are preventable and we know their cause. Road traffic is the worst culprit. Traffic is responsible for 80 per cent of NOx on high pollution roads, with diesel engines contributing the bulk of the problem.

Now a new report by ResPublica has compiled a list of ways that city councils around the UK can help. The report argues that: “The onus is on cities to create plans that can meet the health and economic challenge within a short time-frame, and identify what they need from national government to do so.”

This is a diplomatic way of saying that current government action on the subject does not go far enough – and that cities must help prod them into gear. That includes poking holes in the government’s proposed plans for new “Clean Air Zones”.

Here are just five of the ways the report suggests letting the light in and the pollution out:

1. Clean up the draft Clean Air Zones framework

Last October, the government set out its draft plans for new Clean Air Zones in the UK’s five most polluted cities, Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton (excluding London - where other plans are afoot). These zones will charge “polluting” vehicles to enter and can be implemented with varying levels of intensity, with three options that include cars and one that does not.

But the report argues that there is still too much potential for polluters to play dirty with the rules. Car-charging zones must be mandatory for all cities that breach the current EU standards, the report argues (not just the suggested five). Otherwise national operators who own fleets of vehicles could simply relocate outdated buses or taxis to places where they don’t have to pay.  

Different vehicles should fall under the same rules, the report added. Otherwise, taking your car rather than the bus could suddenly seem like the cost-saving option.

2. Vouchers to vouch-safe the project’s success

The government is exploring a scrappage scheme for diesel cars, to help get the worst and oldest polluting vehicles off the road. But as the report points out, blanket scrappage could simply put a whole load of new fossil-fuel cars on the road.

Instead, ResPublica suggests using the revenue from the Clean Air Zone charges, plus hiked vehicle registration fees, to create “Pollution Reduction Vouchers”.

Low-income households with older cars, that would be liable to charging, could then use the vouchers to help secure alternative transport, buy a new and compliant car, or retrofit their existing vehicle with new technology.

3. Extend Vehicle Excise Duty

Vehicle Excise Duty is currently only tiered by how much CO2 pollution a car creates for the first year. After that it becomes a flat rate for all cars under £40,000. The report suggests changing this so that the most polluting vehicles for CO2, NOx and PM2.5 continue to pay higher rates throughout their life span.

For ClientEarth CEO James Thornton, changes to vehicle excise duty are key to moving people onto cleaner modes of transport: “We need a network of clean air zones to keep the most polluting diesel vehicles from the most polluted parts of our towns and cities and incentives such as a targeted scrappage scheme and changes to vehicle excise duty to move people onto cleaner modes of transport.”

4. Repurposed car parks

You would think city bosses would want less cars in the centre of town. But while less cars is good news for oxygen-breathers, it is bad news for city budgets reliant on parking charges. But using car parks to tap into new revenue from property development and joint ventures could help cities reverse this thinking.

5. Prioritise public awareness

Charge zones can be understandably unpopular. In 2008, a referendum in Manchester defeated the idea of congestion charging. So a big effort is needed to raise public awareness of the health crisis our roads have caused. Metro mayors should outline pollution plans in their manifestos, the report suggests. And cities can take advantage of their existing assets. For example in London there are plans to use electronics in the Underground to update travellers on the air pollution levels.

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Change is already in the air. Southampton has used money from the Local Sustainable Travel Fund to run a successful messaging campaign. And in 2011 Nottingham City Council became the first city to implement a Workplace Parking levy – a scheme which has raised £35.3m to help extend its tram system, upgrade the station and purchase electric buses.

But many more “air necessities” are needed before we can forget about pollution’s worry and its strife.  

 

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.