A new report commissioned by the GLA reveals the stark differences in air quality between the most and least deprived areas in London, as well as the disparity experienced between different ethnic groups and immigrant communities in the capital.
The report, which builds on previous research from 2013 through to 2021, provides a comprehensive look at how air quality has improved between 2013 and 2019 while breaking the data down further to show that location, ethnicity, community, and deprivation all play a part in the way Londoners are affected by toxic air – with those from Black communities, diaspora immigrant communities and those in the most deprived areas of the city being the worst affected.
The reports finds that:
- The most deprived communities of London are more likely to live in the most polluted areas
- Black Londoners are more likely to live in areas with more polluted air
- Diaspora immigrant communities are also more likely to live in areas with more polluted air
Policies introduced since 2016 has seen progress made to reduce air pollution concentrations. However, unless further significant action is taken, the whole population of London is still forecast to remain exposed to NO2 and PM2.5 concentrations above the recommended World Health Organization (WHO) air quality guidelines in 2030.
The City Hall commissioned report reveals that the areas in London with the lowest NO2 and PM2.5 concentrations have a disproportionately small Black, Asian and minority ethnic population, and that Black Londoners in particular are living in areas with more polluted air.
This inequality is greater in outer London where just 29 per cent of residents in the areas with the lowest NO2 concentration are from a Black, Asian and minority ethnic background, in comparison to 44 per cent of residents in the areas with the lowest NO2 concentration in inner London.
While there has been a small reduction in the inequality seen between the different ethnicities from 2013 to 2019, without further intervention this inequality is not set to significantly reduce by 2030.
The report shows that diaspora immigrant communities also tend to live in areas with higher concentrations of toxic air than the London average. Despite improvements in NO2 concentrations since 2016, average NO2 levels in diaspora communities in London were 8.1% higher than the London average and PM2.5 levels were 3.7% higher than the London average in 2019.
The most deprived communities in London are still most likely to live in the most polluted areas of the city, with the average NO2 concentration in the most deprived areas being 4.4 µg/m3 higher than in the least deprived areas in 2019. Forecasts show that while the difference between the most and least deprived communities continues to reduce, it will happen at a much slower rate between 2025 and 2030.
This data highlights the need to take further action to tackle toxic air in London. While progress has been made to reduce some of the inequalities, without further policy intervention, the differences in the quality of air Londoners from different backgrounds, ethnicities and communities breathe will continue to be stark.
The Race Equality Foundation commented:
Air pollution is one of the biggest health risks we face right now in the UK. It increases our chance of developing cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, reduces people’s life expectancy, and it has serious implications for our mental health. Air pollution is the cause of tens of thousands of deaths in the UK every year.
Everyone has the right to breathe clean air, but exposure to air pollution across the UK, and as shown in this report in London, is not experienced equally: the most deprived communities are more likely to be living in the most polluted areas. If you are Black, Asian or minority ethnic, your exposure is also likely to be higher. This isn’t right.
While progress has been made to reduce air pollution in London in recent years, much more needs to be done. There is no safe level of air pollution to breathe. This means that we need targeted and committed action, to enable improvements for all our communities to be able to breathe better. Ten years on from the tragic death of nine year old Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debra, who died as a result of the air she breathed, action is long overdue.
We need to take bold steps now to improve London’s air quality – it must continue to be a public health priority. It’s crucial to reducing health impacts and disparities, and protecting all Londoner’s health and wellbeing. We cannot wait years for change to happen. Change needs to happen now.
Read the Greater London Authority air quality exposure and inequalities study part 1 and part 2.