The Guardian view on Gove’s clean air plan: just hot air | Editorial

Michael Gove, the environment secretary, made his name during the Brexit campaign for quipping that “the people have had enough of experts” and likening economists who warned against leaving the European Union to Nazi propagandists against Einstein. Mr Gove knows how to attract an audience. Nor has he discarded his insight that the public, if presented with facts that contradict a deeply held belief, will ditch the facts. This week Mr Gove was at it again: making headlines without making policy. The cabinet minister produced a clean air strategy which purported to tackle a public health crisis by getting families to open their windows more often because “air pollution inside the home can often be higher than outside”. This is true, but it smacks of the kind simplistic commonsense answer that Mr Gove favours because it avoids the knotty trade-offs called for in any policy, be it Brexit or the environment.

The main contributor to the air quality crisis, one that sees thousands of lives ended prematurely, is road transport – a subject about which Mr Gove has strangely little to say. Instead, his plan envisages local authorities finding the cash, presumably by defunding libraries or other essential public goods, to pay for an army of local inspectors to check the dryness of the wood being sold on petrol station forecourts that is used as fuel for stoves. Given his policy’s impotence, it would be absurd to say Mr Gove is taking the issue seriously. As lives are at stake, it is actually offensive.

It is also audacious to argue, as the environment secretary did, that “Brexit will allow us to clean up Britain’s air” when his government’s air pollution plan has been rejected by the courts three times because it failed to meet legal limits set by the EU eight years ago. It becomes outrageous when one knows that Mr Gove’s strategy is a response to an EU air quality law that set legally binding emission reduction targets for five pollutants.

The question is whether such a committed Brexiter would develop such a strategy if we were not in the EU? Mr Gove’s record of pushing for deregulation and repressing teaching on climate change in schools bodes ill. He was found to be acting illegally under EU laws, which can be disappeared from March 2019. Who will hold the government to account following Brexit? Will it be Mr Gove’s environmental watchdog, one so toothless it can only scare ministers into meeting standards by issuing advisory notices? If that is the enforcement agency, then every climate sceptic and fossil fuel fan ought to be celebrating in the streets.

If ministers are serious about dealing with a public health emergency that is “cutting lives short, damaging children’s health and poisoning our natural environment”, then they will have to change the car culture in this country and support that kind of change in behaviour by going with the grain of what people want to do, which is to be sustainably mobile. The government needs to encourage a virtuous circle of declining car use coupled with increasing use of greener modes of public transport. This needs cash, and crucially must allow local government to charge motorists to use road space. Ministers will have to face down the motor lobby and embrace electric cars, as they have done in Norway. Charging car batteries from central power stations is more efficient than burning fuel in separate engines. If Mr Gove wants to be remembered for more than just PR stunts that divert attention from a trick being pulled, he should adopt a policy that hastens the demise of the internal combustion engine.

The Guardian view on Gove’s clean air plan: just hot air | Editorial

Michael Gove, the environment secretary, made his name during the Brexit campaign for quipping that “the people have had enough of experts” and likening economists who warned against leaving the European Union to Nazi propagandists against Einstein. Mr Gove knows how to attract an audience. Nor has he discarded his insight that the public, if presented with facts that contradict a deeply held belief, will ditch the facts. This week Mr Gove was at it again: making headlines without making policy. The cabinet minister produced a clean air strategy which purported to tackle a public health crisis by getting families to open their windows more often because “air pollution inside the home can often be higher than outside”. This is true, but it smacks of the kind simplistic commonsense answer that Mr Gove favours because it avoids the knotty trade-offs called for in any policy, be it Brexit or the environment.

The main contributor to the air quality crisis, one that sees thousands of lives ended prematurely, is road transport – a subject about which Mr Gove has strangely little to say. Instead, his plan envisages local authorities finding the cash, presumably by defunding libraries or other essential public goods, to pay for an army of local inspectors to check the dryness of the wood being sold on petrol station forecourts that is used as fuel for stoves. Given his policy’s impotence, it would be absurd to say Mr Gove is taking the issue seriously. As lives are at stake, it is actually offensive.

It is also audacious to argue, as the environment secretary did, that “Brexit will allow us to clean up Britain’s air” when his government’s air pollution plan has been rejected by the courts three times because it failed to meet legal limits set by the EU eight years ago. It becomes outrageous when one knows that Mr Gove’s strategy is a response to an EU air quality law that set legally binding emission reduction targets for five pollutants.

The question is whether such a committed Brexiter would develop such a strategy if we were not in the EU? Mr Gove’s record of pushing for deregulation and repressing teaching on climate change in schools bodes ill. He was found to be acting illegally under EU laws, which can be disappeared from March 2019. Who will hold the government to account following Brexit? Will it be Mr Gove’s environmental watchdog, one so toothless it can only scare ministers into meeting standards by issuing advisory notices? If that is the enforcement agency, then every climate sceptic and fossil fuel fan ought to be celebrating in the streets.

If ministers are serious about dealing with a public health emergency that is “cutting lives short, damaging children’s health and poisoning our natural environment”, then they will have to change the car culture in this country and support that kind of change in behaviour by going with the grain of what people want to do, which is to be sustainably mobile. The government needs to encourage a virtuous circle of declining car use coupled with increasing use of greener modes of public transport. This needs cash, and crucially must allow local government to charge motorists to use road space. Ministers will have to face down the motor lobby and embrace electric cars, as they have done in Norway. Charging car batteries from central power stations is more efficient than burning fuel in separate engines. If Mr Gove wants to be remembered for more than just PR stunts that divert attention from a trick being pulled, he should adopt a policy that hastens the demise of the internal combustion engine.

Hospitals struggling to afford new equipment after NHS budget cuts

Hospitals can no longer afford the most modern scanners and surgical equipment to treat patients who have cancer and other diseases because of multibillion-pound cuts to the NHS’s capital budget, research reveals.

Staff are having to continue using vital diagnostic and treatment technology beyond its natural life because there are insufficient funds to replace it.

For example, radiographers are using out-of-date scanners that produce images so unclear they impede correct diagnosis. In one case, 200 patients had to be rescanned because the images of their lumps, tumours and broken bones were of such poor quality.

Ambulances are breaking down because they have been kept in service for too long, and hospitals are having to continue using archaic IT systems in the wake of repeated government raids on NHS capital funding, the researchers heard. One trust had to scrap plans to bring in electronic scheduling of operations because it could not afford the technology.

Others are unable to expand their A&E units to help them cope with rising patient numbers, while some lack the money to repair rotten windows and leaking roofs in hospital buildings because of the cash squeeze.

The problems are outlined in research conducted at 30 trusts by the health services management centre at Birmingham University and funded by the Health Foundation, a thinktank.

Trust bosses told the academics the lack of money for new equipment and repairs had started to affect the quality and safety of patient care.

“The surroundings that they [patients] are actually being cared for in are appalling and we all know … that those surroundings do impact the recovery rate. So in that respect it is impacting their recovery as well,” one NHS trust finance director said.

Since 2014 Jeremy Hunt, the health and social care secretary, has taken £4.3bn from the NHS in England’s capital budget and used it to help pay for day-to-day running costs, in response to its deepening financial crisis. In 2016-17 alone he removed £1.2bn, a fifth of the entire capital budget.

“This has left the NHS between a rock and a hard place, postponing and cutting vital capital investment to fund day-to-day running costs,” said Anita Charlesworth, the Health Foundation’s director of research and economics. “It’s clear that shortfalls in NHS capital spending are starting to hurt: spending on new equipment such as medical scanners has more than halved over the last four years.”

NHS Providers, which represents NHS trusts, said the shortage of capital funding was so acute that hospitals could not afford to replace outmoded machines that deliver radiotherapy to cancer patients.

“Just in the last few days one trust leader told us of frustrating delays in funding needed to improve an emergency department. Another spoke of her worries about being able to replace linear accelerators. But as we see in this report, this is also a major problem for mental health, community and ambulance services as well,” said Phillippa Hentsch, the organisation’s head of analysis.

A separate analysis of NHS finances by the Health Foundation found that capital spending for healthcare, such as for hospitals and equipment, in the UK was low compared with other OECD countries, at 0.3% of GDP compared with an average of 0.5%.

Increasing the percentage spent in the UK to the OECD average would mean the NHS had another £3bn a year for such projects, it said.

Charlesworth said: “The maintenance backlog for hospitals is now over £5bn. Most worryingly, £2.8bn of this backlog is high or significant risk, related to clinical services and safety.” She said cutting capital spending was “a false economy” that made hospitals inefficient and prevented them from improving patient care.

One trust boss said £40m of “priority one high-risk” urgent repairs were needed in one year, but only £11m was available for them.

On Wednesday Labour will use parliamentary procedure to try to force ministers to disclose documents that reveal what elements of the Health and Social Care Act 2012 they want to scrap.

There have been reports that Theresa May is keen to repeal some sections of the legislation to help pave the way for an overhaul of how the service works, tied to a big increase in NHS funding planned to mark its 70th birthday on 5 July.

Food industry in England fails to meet sugar reduction target

The food industry has failed to hit its target of cutting sugar by 5% over the past year, with experts describing the results as “hugely disappointing” and suggesting the government may be forced to introduce a tax, as with sugary drinks.

Public Health England had called for a cut of 20% of sugar in the products we buy to take home and eat in cafes by 2020, with 5% in the first year. In a massive new report, PHE shows food manufacturers and supermarkets have cut out 2% over the first 12 months, but much more has been achieved in some areas and by some companies than others.

Only three food groups of the eight measured have managed at least a 5% reduction: sweet spreads and sauces, yoghurts and fromage frais, and breakfast cereals. There has been no sugar reduction in biscuits and chocolate bars, although we consume less because they have become smaller. Puddings, meanwhile, have actually become sweeter.

While PHE applauded the industry’s efforts, some critics slammed them as inadequate. The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) described the results in the first year as “hugely disappointing” and said the government would soon have no choice but to ditch the voluntary approach for mandatory targets.

“At best, this is industry being slow to react. At worst – and in reality – it seriously calls into question industry’s engagement with the voluntary approach,” said Prof Russell Viner, president of the RCPCH.

The Obesity Health Alliance also spoke of disappointment and called for a revamped obesity plan. “We have seen the success of the soft drinks industry levy in turbo-charging reformulation in sugary soft drinks,” said its lead, Caroline Cerny. “We also know that stronger marketing restrictions, including a 9pm watershed on TV, would help protect children from relentless exposure to junk food, and encourage manufacturers to make their foods healthier. Now is the time for the government to protect our children’s health with a truly world-leading obesity plan.”

Chocolate confectionery has a very long way to go. A Terry’s Chocolate Orange contains 58.5g of sugar per 100g. A Cadbury Crunchie contains 65g per 100g. Of the top 20 brands, only Nestlé’s Kit Kat Chunky has decreased in sugar (now at 52.7g per 100g) – by reducing the portion size and calorie count – and Cadbury’s Double Decker has actually gone up.

Among ice creams, Wall’s Cornettos and Magnums contain a bit less sugar, but its Soleros contain more. Starbucks has reformulated its chocolate brownies and carrot cake with less sugar. Tesco and Waitrose are among the supermarkets to cut the sugar in their own-brand breakfast cereals and so has Jordans, although Dorset muesli still has 23.4g of sugar and Kellogg’s Crunchy Nut contains 35.3g per 100g.

The puddings category, however, has failed to make progress. Ambrosia rice pudding, Mr Kipling sponge pudding and Nestlé Aero chilled mousse were all found to have increased in sugar content and/or calories.

Sugar

The detail of the report is designed to incentivise the food industry to do more and provide a baseline for measuring what it does over the coming years. PHE says next year’s report will give a clearer picture of the adequacy of the industry’s response.

Steve Brine, public health minister, hinted that the industry could be compelled to do more. “We lead the world in having the most stringent sugar reformulation targets and it is encouraging to see that some progress has been made in the first year,” he said.

“However, we do not underestimate the scale of the challenge we face. We are monitoring progress closely and have not ruled out taking further action.”

By contrast with the voluntary 5% sugar reduction in foods, the tough measure taken against sugary drinks in the form of the sugar tax is getting results. The PHE report said that sugar has been reduced by 11% in soft drinks and the average calories in single drink are down by 6%.

The data also shows that people are buying more drinks with less sugar – below the 5g per 100ml where the tax kicks in. That could be a result of publicity around high-sugar drinks or because of price.

Juice and milk-based drinks for children are now to be included in the PHE sugar-reduction programme, because they are not subject to the tax. PHE wants manufacturers and retailers to cut the sugar levels in juice-based drinks by 5% by 2021 and end sales of single drinks, including smoothies, larger than 150ml. Milk-based drinks should have 20% less sugar and no single drink should be larger than 300ml.

PHE’s chief executive, Duncan Selbie, said “tackling the obesity crisis needs the whole food industry to step up, in particular those businesses that have as yet taken little or no action”.

A quarter of children who start primary school are overweight or obese – and that rises to a third by the time they leave for secondary school at 11.

“This is about tackling the nation’s obesity crisis,” said Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at PHE. “Too many children and adults suffer the effects of obesity, as does society, with our NHS under needless pressure. Obesity widens economic inequalities, affecting the poor the hardest.”

The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) said companies were engaging with what are sometimes difficult technical issues.

“As PHE correctly point out, reformulation takes time – it can’t happen overnight,” said Tim Rycroft, director of corporate affairs. “Sugar reduction has considerable technical challenges; sugar plays a variety of roles beyond sweetness in food including colour, texture and consistency. It is for these reasons that we have long said that the guidelines are ambitious and will not be met across all categories or in the timescale outlined.

“Obesity poses a huge public health challenge in the UK, and food and drink companies are well aware of their role in addressing this issue. For the last decade the UK’s food and drink companies have been reformulating their products to reduce sugar, calories, fat and salt, as well as limiting portion sizes. In fact, over the last five years FDF members have reduced calorie content in the average basket by 5.5%, and sugar content by 12.1% – and there is more work in the pipeline.”

He also called for cafes and restaurants to do more. “In many categories, the calorie content per portion of food served in cafes, coffee shops and restaurants is almost double that of manufacturers and retailers,” he said. “This is at a time when 25% of total calorie consumption takes place outside the home.”

Food industry in England fails to meet sugar reduction target

The sugar the nation consumes in its yoghurts and breakfast cereals has been cut by 5% in the last year – but there has been no sugar reduction in biscuits and chocolate bars, although we consume less because they have become smaller. Puddings, meanwhile, have actually become sweeter, Public Health England has revealed.

PHE’s progress check on the food industry’s efforts to cut the sugar in what we eat and drink to tackle child obesity shows a mixed picture. While PHE applauds the industry’s efforts, some critics slammed them as inadequate. The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) described the results as “hugely disappointing” and said the government would soon have no choice but to ditch the voluntary approach for mandatory targets.

PHE has called for a cut of 20% of sugar in the products we buy to take home and eat in cafes by 2020, with 5% in the first year. The massive report PHE has now published shows food manufacturers and supermarkets have cut out 2% over the first 12 months, with much more achieved in some areas and by some companies than others.

Only three food groups of the eight measured have managed at least a 5% reduction: sweet spreads and sauces, yoghurts and fromage frais, and breakfast cereals. “At best, this is industry being slow to react. At worst – and in reality – it seriously calls into question industry’s engagement with the voluntary approach,” said Prof Russell Viner, president of the RCPCH.

The Obesity Health Alliance also spoke of disappointment and called for a revamped obesity plan. “We have seen the success of the soft drinks industry levy in turbo-charging reformulation in sugary soft drinks,” said its lead, Caroline Cerny. “We also know that stronger marketing restrictions, including a 9pm watershed on TV, would help protect children from relentless exposure to junk food, and encourage manufacturers to make their foods healthier. Now is the time for the government to protect our children’s health with a truly world-leading obesity plan.”

Chocolate confectionery has a very long way to go. A Terry’s Chocolate Orange contains 58.5g of sugar per 100g. A Cadbury Crunchie contains 65g per 100g. Of the top 20 brands, only Nestlé’s Kit Kat Chunky has decreased in sugar (now at 52.7g per 100g) – by reducing the portion size and calorie count – and Cadbury’s Double Decker has actually gone up.

Among ice creams, Wall’s Cornettos and Magnums contain a bit less sugar, but its Soleros contain more. Starbucks has reformulated its chocolate brownies and carrot cake with less sugar. Tesco and Waitrose are among the supermarkets to cut the sugar in their own-brand breakfast cereals and so has Jordans, although Dorset muesli still has 23.4g of sugar and Kellogg’s Crunchy Nut contains 35.3g per 100g.

The puddings category, however, has failed to make progress. Ambrosia rice pudding, Mr Kipling sponge pudding and Nestlé Aero chilled mousse have all increased in sugar content and/or calories.

Sugar

The detail of the report is designed to incentivise the food industry to do more and provide a baseline for measuring what it does over the coming years. PHE says next year’s report will give a clearer picture of the adequacy of the industry’s response.

Steve Brine, public health minister, hinted that the industry could be compelled to do more. “We lead the world in having the most stringent sugar reformulation targets and it is encouraging to see that some progress has been made in the first year,” he said.

“However, we do not underestimate the scale of the challenge we face. We are monitoring progress closely and have not ruled out taking further action.”

PHE’s chief executive, Duncan Selbie, said “tackling the obesity crisis needs the whole food industry to step up, in particular those businesses that have as yet taken little or no action”.

A quarter of children who start primary school are overweight or obese – and that rises to a third by the time they leave for secondary school at 11.

“This is about tackling the nation’s obesity crisis,” said Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at PHE. “Too many children and adults suffer the effects of obesity, as does society, with our NHS under needless pressure. Obesity widens economic inequalities, affecting the poor the hardest.”

The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) said companies were engaging with what are sometimes difficult technical issues.

“As PHE correctly point out, reformulation takes time – it can’t happen overnight,” said Tim Rycroft, director of corporate affairs. “Sugar reduction has considerable technical challenges; sugar plays a variety of roles beyond sweetness in food including colour, texture and consistency. It is for these reasons that we have long said that the guidelines are ambitious and will not be met across all categories or in the timescale outlined.

“Obesity poses a huge public health challenge in the UK, and food and drink companies are well aware of their role in addressing this issue. For the last decade the UK’s food and drink companies have been reformulating their products to reduce sugar, calories, fat and salt, as well as limiting portion sizes. In fact, over the last five years FDF members have reduced calorie content in the average basket by 5.5%, and sugar content by 12.1% – and there is more work in the pipeline.”

He also called for cafes and restaurants to do more. “In many categories, the calorie content per portion of food served in cafes, coffee shops and restaurants is almost double that of manufacturers and retailers,” he said. “This is at a time when 25% of total calorie consumption takes place outside the home.”

Food industry in England fails to meet sugar reduction target

The sugar the nation consumes in its yoghurts and breakfast cereals has been cut by 5% in the last year – but there has been no sugar reduction in biscuits and chocolate bars, although we consume less because they have got smaller. Puddings, meanwhile, have actually got sweeter, Public Health England has revealed.

PHE’s progress check on the food industry’s efforts to cut the sugar in what we eat and drink to tackle child obesity shows a mixed picture. While PHE applauds the industry’s efforts, some critics slammed them as inadequate. The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) described the results as “hugely disappointing” and said the government would soon have no choice but to ditch the voluntary approach for mandatory targets.

PHE has called for a cut of 20% of sugar in the products we buy to take home and eat in cafes by 2020, with 5% in the first year. The massive report PHE has now published shows food manufacturers and supermarkets have cut out 2% over the first 12 months, with much more achieved in some areas and by some companies than others.

Only three food groups of the eight measured have managed at least a 5% reduction: sweet spreads and sauces, yoghurts and fromage frais, and breakfast cereals. “At best, this is industry being slow to react. At worst – and in reality – it seriously calls into question industry’s engagement with the voluntary approach,” said Prof Russell Viner, president of the RCPCH.

The Obesity Health Alliance also spoke of disappointment and called for a revamped obesity plan. “We have seen the success of the soft drinks industry levy in turbo-charging reformulation in sugary soft drinks,” said its lead, Caroline Cerny. “We also know that stronger marketing restrictions, including a 9pm watershed on TV, would help protect children from relentless exposure to junk food, and encourage manufacturers to make their foods healthier. Now is the time for the government to protect our children’s health with a truly world-leading obesity plan.”

Chocolate confectionery has a very long way to go. A Terry’s chocolate orange contains 58.5g of sugar per 100g. A Cadbury Crunchie contains 65g per 100g. Of the top 20 brands, only Nestlé’s Kit Kat Chunky has decreased in sugar (now at 52.7g per 100g) – by reducing the portion size and calorie count – and Cadbury’s Double Decker has actually gone up.

Among ice creams, Wall’s Cornettos and Magnums contain a bit less sugar, but its Soleros contain more. Starbucks has reformulated its chocolate brownies and carrot cake with less sugar. Tesco and Waitrose are among the supermarkets to cut the sugar in their own-brand breakfast cereals and so has Jordans, although Dorset muesli still has 23.4g of sugar and Kellogg’s Crunchy Nut contains 35.3g per 100g.

The puddings category, however, has failed to make progress. Ambrosia rice pudding, Mr Kipling sponge pudding and Nestlé Aero chilled mousse have all increased in sugar content and/or calories.

Sugar

The detail of the report is designed to incentivise the food industry to do more and provide a baseline for measuring what it does over the coming years. PHE says next year’s report will give a clearer picture of the adequacy of the industry’s response.

Steve Brine, public health minister, hinted that the industry could be compelled to do more. “We lead the world in having the most stringent sugar reformulation targets and it is encouraging to see that some progress has been made in the first year,” he said.

“However, we do not underestimate the scale of the challenge we face. We are monitoring progress closely and have not ruled out taking further action.”

PHE’s chief executive, Duncan Selbie, said “tackling the obesity crisis needs the whole food industry to step up, in particular those businesses that have as yet taken little or no action”.

A quarter of children who start primary school are overweight or obese – and that rises to a third by the time they leave for secondary school at 11.

“This is about tackling the nation’s obesity crisis,” said Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at PHE. “Too many children and adults suffer the effects of obesity, as does society, with our NHS under needless pressure. Obesity widens economic inequalities, affecting the poor the hardest.”

The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) said companies were engaging with what are sometimes difficult technical issues.

“As PHE correctly point out, reformulation takes time – it can’t happen overnight,” said Tim Rycroft, director of corporate affairs. “Sugar reduction has considerable technical challenges; sugar plays a variety of roles beyond sweetness in food including colour, texture and consistency. It is for these reasons that we have long said that the guidelines are ambitious and will not be met across all categories or in the timescale outlined.

“Obesity poses a huge public health challenge in the UK, and food and drink companies are well aware of their role in addressing this issue. For the last decade the UK’s food and drink companies have been reformulating their products to reduce sugar, calories, fat and salt, as well as limiting portion sizes. In fact, over the last five years FDF members have reduced calorie content in the average basket by 5.5%, and sugar content by 12.1% – and there is more work in the pipeline.”

He also called for cafes and restaurants to do more. “In many categories, the calorie content per portion of food served in cafes, coffee shops and restaurants is almost double that of manufacturers and retailers,” he said. “This is at a time when 25% of total calorie consumption takes place outside the home.”

What would get you on your bike? Here’s a chance to change your streets | Laura Laker

Imagine if, with an email, you could help to start a national conversation about cleaning up the air where you live, improving the health of your community, boosting the local economy and making your neighbourhood a happier place to be. Well, you can – and you’ve got until 1 June.

This is the government consultation on its cycling and walking safety review, its purpose, “to help make cycling and walking the natural choices for shorter journeys”.

If you’re sitting, or standing there, thinking, “I don’t cycle, why should I care?” don’t look away just yet, because this is not just about walking and cycling. This is about having a national conversation about the places we live, and what we want them to be like. Do we want to tackle our lethally and illegally poor air quality, for example? Do we want the choice to cycle and walk to the shops, to school, to work, without fear of dangerous roads? Do we really need every one of our neighbourhood streets to be thoroughfares for passing motor traffic, or would we like them to be places to play, to walk, to sit and shoot the breeze?

Research suggests cycling could be a “miracle pill” for our nation’s health, but most of us can’t access it. There is a 60% chance you’re one of those who would like to cycle more, but feel the roads are too dangerous. If you’re a family there’s a 38% chance you would cycle more often if there were more traffic-free routes; an additional 25% of you have family members who don’t feel confident cycling, according to Cycling UK. If so, you are the people the Department for Transport needs to hear from. More than those already mixing it with motor traffic, you can help to build the case for change.

We in this country are dreadful on cycling and walking. We have four decades of motor-centric thinking embedded at local and national level, and we lag behind many of our European neighbours, in cycling particularly. Change isn’t going to happen overnight. However, with some of the worst obesity rates in the world, and our filthy air, we need to put pressure on our politicians to get moving.

Around 11% of trips less than a mile, and 29% of one to two miles, are currently taken by car. Imagine our streets, and our air, if more people walked and cycled those trips.

I’ve seen at first-hand the impact walking- and cycling-friendly interventions have had in the Netherlands. Neighbourhood streets become places children play out, where people get to know their neighbours, and where it’s safe for older people to get out and about, including on bicycles, without fear of traffic. Places you hear birdsong, rather than the rumble of engines.

Studies have found people living on streets with lighter traffic know more of their neighbours, and are healthier. By making residential streets dead ends for traffic, with bollards or planters, say, while allowing cycles to pass through (known as “filtering”), we can start to achieve change.

On main roads protected cycle tracks help to encourage more people to cycle to work, reduce conflict and make streets feel safer for everyone. Imagine what school-run streets would be like for everyone if kids could cycle to school. One Danish study of 20,000 children aged five to 19 found improved concentration in those who cycled or walked to school.

The benefits of cycling and walking on high streets are tangible, too: time and again studies have shown that town centres don’t grind to a halt when motor traffic is restricted – far from it, they thrive: bike lanes can increase retail sales by a quarter. There isn’t gridlock. Deliveries still happen. Shopping streets become places people want to be.

I’m not judging anyone here – I grew up and learned to drive in rural Somerset and I know what it’s like to live with poor public transport and fast rural roads, where it feels too dangerous to cycle and driving is the only realistic option for most trips. But time and again, surveys show most people support more cycling infrastructure, and more spending on cycling, even if it takes road space from cars, or slows car journey times. Yet we still lack national design standards for cycling infrastructure, which means that local councils, with the best intentions, build routes people can’t use because of barriers, diversions, cyclist dismount signs and narrow, painted lanes that give up at junctions.

If you’re not an expert, don’t worry. Cycling minister Jesse Norman is looking for ideas, and what he calls “idealism with a sense of the practical”. The government is listening right now. It’s time to send a clear message.

Laura Laker is a freelance writer for the Guardian. She also writes on the environment and cycling for the Ecologist and the London Cycling Campaign

What would get you on your bike? Here’s a chance to change your streets | Laura Laker

Imagine if, with an email, you could help to start a national conversation about cleaning up the air where you live, improving the health of your community, boosting the local economy and making your neighbourhood a happier place to be. Well, you can – and you’ve got until 1 June.

This is the government consultation on its cycling and walking safety review, its purpose, “to help make cycling and walking the natural choices for shorter journeys”.

If you’re sitting, or standing there, thinking, “I don’t cycle, why should I care?” don’t look away just yet, because this is not just about walking and cycling. This is about having a national conversation about the places we live, and what we want them to be like. Do we want to tackle our lethally and illegally poor air quality, for example? Do we want the choice to cycle and walk to the shops, to school, to work, without fear of dangerous roads? Do we really need every one of our neighbourhood streets to be thoroughfares for passing motor traffic, or would we like them to be places to play, to walk, to sit and shoot the breeze?

Research suggests cycling could be a “miracle pill” for our nation’s health, but most of us can’t access it. There is a 60% chance you’re one of those who would like to cycle more, but feel the roads are too dangerous. If you’re a family there’s a 38% chance you would cycle more often if there were more traffic-free routes; an additional 25% of you have family members who don’t feel confident cycling, according to Cycling UK. If so, you are the people the Department for Transport needs to hear from. More than those already mixing it with motor traffic, you can help to build the case for change.

We in this country are dreadful on cycling and walking. We have four decades of motor-centric thinking embedded at local and national level, and we lag behind many of our European neighbours, in cycling particularly. Change isn’t going to happen overnight. However, with some of the worst obesity rates in the world, and our filthy air, we need to put pressure on our politicians to get moving.

Around 11% of trips less than a mile, and 29% of one to two miles, are currently taken by car. Imagine our streets, and our air, if more people walked and cycled those trips.

I’ve seen at first-hand the impact walking- and cycling-friendly interventions have had in the Netherlands. Neighbourhood streets become places children play out, where people get to know their neighbours, and where it’s safe for older people to get out and about, including on bicycles, without fear of traffic. Places you hear birdsong, rather than the rumble of engines.

Studies have found people living on streets with lighter traffic know more of their neighbours, and are healthier. By making residential streets dead ends for traffic, with bollards or planters, say, while allowing cycles to pass through (known as “filtering”), we can start to achieve change.

On main roads protected cycle tracks help to encourage more people to cycle to work, reduce conflict and make streets feel safer for everyone. Imagine what school-run streets would be like for everyone if kids could cycle to school. One Danish study of 20,000 children aged five to 19 found improved concentration in those who cycled or walked to school.

The benefits of cycling and walking on high streets are tangible, too: time and again studies have shown that town centres don’t grind to a halt when motor traffic is restricted – far from it, they thrive: bike lanes can increase retail sales by a quarter. There isn’t gridlock. Deliveries still happen. Shopping streets become places people want to be.

I’m not judging anyone here – I grew up and learned to drive in rural Somerset and I know what it’s like to live with poor public transport and fast rural roads, where it feels too dangerous to cycle and driving is the only realistic option for most trips. But time and again, surveys show most people support more cycling infrastructure, and more spending on cycling, even if it takes road space from cars, or slows car journey times. Yet we still lack national design standards for cycling infrastructure, which means that local councils, with the best intentions, build routes people can’t use because of barriers, diversions, cyclist dismount signs and narrow, painted lanes that give up at junctions.

If you’re not an expert, don’t worry. Cycling minister Jesse Norman is looking for ideas, and what he calls “idealism with a sense of the practical”. The government is listening right now. It’s time to send a clear message.

Laura Laker is a freelance writer for the Guardian. She also writes on the environment and cycling for the Ecologist and the London Cycling Campaign

What would get you on your bike? Here’s a chance to change your streets | Laura Laker

Imagine if, with an email, you could help to start a national conversation about cleaning up the air where you live, improving the health of your community, boosting the local economy and making your neighbourhood a happier place to be. Well, you can – and you’ve got until 1 June.

This is the government consultation on its cycling and walking safety review, its purpose, “to help make cycling and walking the natural choices for shorter journeys”.

If you’re sitting, or standing there, thinking, “I don’t cycle, why should I care?” don’t look away just yet, because this is not just about walking and cycling. This is about having a national conversation about the places we live, and what we want them to be like. Do we want to tackle our lethally and illegally poor air quality, for example? Do we want the choice to cycle and walk to the shops, to school, to work, without fear of dangerous roads? Do we really need every one of our neighbourhood streets to be thoroughfares for passing motor traffic, or would we like them to be places to play, to walk, to sit and shoot the breeze?

Research suggests cycling could be a “miracle pill” for our nation’s health, but most of us can’t access it. There is a 60% chance you’re one of those who would like to cycle more, but feel the roads are too dangerous. If you’re a family there’s a 38% chance you would cycle more often if there were more traffic-free routes; an additional 25% of you have family members who don’t feel confident cycling, according to Cycling UK. If so, you are the people the Department for Transport needs to hear from. More than those already mixing it with motor traffic, you can help to build the case for change.

We in this country are dreadful on cycling and walking. We have four decades of motor-centric thinking embedded at local and national level, and we lag behind many of our European neighbours, in cycling particularly. Change isn’t going to happen overnight. However, with some of the worst obesity rates in the world, and our filthy air, we need to put pressure on our politicians to get moving.

Around 11% of trips less than a mile, and 29% of one to two miles, are currently taken by car. Imagine our streets, and our air, if more people walked and cycled those trips.

I’ve seen at first-hand the impact walking- and cycling-friendly interventions have had in the Netherlands. Neighbourhood streets become places children play out, where people get to know their neighbours, and where it’s safe for older people to get out and about, including on bicycles, without fear of traffic. Places you hear birdsong, rather than the rumble of engines.

Studies have found people living on streets with lighter traffic know more of their neighbours, and are healthier. By making residential streets dead ends for traffic, with bollards or planters, say, while allowing cycles to pass through (known as “filtering”), we can start to achieve change.

On main roads protected cycle tracks help to encourage more people to cycle to work, reduce conflict and make streets feel safer for everyone. Imagine what school-run streets would be like for everyone if kids could cycle to school. One Danish study of 20,000 children aged five to 19 found improved concentration in those who cycled or walked to school.

The benefits of cycling and walking on high streets are tangible, too: time and again studies have shown that town centres don’t grind to a halt when motor traffic is restricted – far from it, they thrive: bike lanes can increase retail sales by a quarter. There isn’t gridlock. Deliveries still happen. Shopping streets become places people want to be.

I’m not judging anyone here – I grew up and learned to drive in rural Somerset and I know what it’s like to live with poor public transport and fast rural roads, where it feels too dangerous to cycle and driving is the only realistic option for most trips. But time and again, surveys show most people support more cycling infrastructure, and more spending on cycling, even if it takes road space from cars, or slows car journey times. Yet we still lack national design standards for cycling infrastructure, which means that local councils, with the best intentions, build routes people can’t use because of barriers, diversions, cyclist dismount signs and narrow, painted lanes that give up at junctions.

If you’re not an expert, don’t worry. Cycling minister Jesse Norman is looking for ideas, and what he calls “idealism with a sense of the practical”. The government is listening right now. It’s time to send a clear message.

Laura Laker is a freelance writer for the Guardian. She also writes on the environment and cycling for the Ecologist and the London Cycling Campaign

NHS at 70: the health service is at a critical point in its lifetime

The Bible tells us our life span is “three score years and 10”. As the National Health Service prepares to pass that milestone, it seems paradoxically both held in higher regard and to be in greater danger than at any time since its founding on 5 July 1948.

Seventy years always looked a little on the optimistic side for the time of Moses in Psalm 90. Even in 1948, life expectancy for men was only 66 and for women 71. Today, though, it is 79 and almost 83 respectively, which tells you a lot about the problems the NHS faces in sustaining its founding principle of cradle-to-grave healthcare, free at the point of use.

We are set for a summer of celebration of the NHS’s 70th. There are crude party political reasons for this, on both left and right, but there is undoubtedly deep-rooted support – indeed, love – for the institution among the British people. Six years on, the NHS section of the opening ceremony of the London Olympics is still widely and fondly remembered.

Those dancing nurses and doctors struck a chord across the world, too. For the NHS is a system deeply envied by other countries for its universal coverage, its humanity and its value for money – and judged the best in the developed world by the Commonwealth Fund, a respected international thinktank.

That surprises many people in the UK fed a relentless media diet of “NHS crisis”, fuelled by political point-scoring and pressure groups’ hyperbole. Last winter proved no exception, but the show was kept on the road thanks to often heroic efforts by health workers and by pushing hospital bed occupancy levels far in excess of recommended limits. English hospitals met the target of maximum 85% bed occupancy for just three days over a month-long period, yet no emergency departments ever closed.

With some parts of the system warning that winter crises are becoming a year-round phenomenon, prime minister Theresa May has suggested she wants to mark the NHS’s 70th by awarding it a long-term funding settlement so it can better plan to meet the spiralling healthcare needs of the ageing population.

No figures have been mentioned, but the Nuffield Trust has projected that funding for the NHS in England alone needs to rise from its current level of £125bn to about £150bn by 2022-23 – £20bn more than currently planned.

Historically, the NHS budget enjoyed average 4% annual rises above inflation from 1948 until 2010. Since then, according to the King’s Fund thinktank, increases under austerity constraints have averaged 1.2%.

A £20bn boost would, of course, be affordable if the “£350m extra a week for the NHS” promised by some Brexiteers in the referendum turned out to be a real dividend of leaving the EU next year. Few in the health world are banking on it.

Reviews and injections of funding seem to come round regularly. Most recently, in 2014, NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens agreed a five-year programme to make savings rising to £22bn a year by developing new models of care in return for a pledge by ministers to make good an £8bn annual funding shortfall.

Those new models, based in part on a US approach called “accountable care” whereby health agencies take overall responsibility for the wellbeing of a local population for a fixed per-person fee, have prompted fears of privatisation and triggered legal challenges which may yet force a halt pending new legislation.

While some see such a drift towards a more US-style health system as a real and present threat to the NHS, others see the bigger threat in the growing difficulty of satisfying rising demand for care within a wholly state-funded system, however much the government contributes. As the British Medical Journal has put it: “In the NHS’s 70th year, the debate is at a critical point about the service’s very essence and its sustainability.”

Can we continue to expect the NHS to meet all our needs? Are we prepared to accept the kind of radical changes that Stevens says are needed to modernise the system, including closure of some local hospitals? Are we willing to pay more so that the system can go on dealing with more than 1.4 million patients every 24 hours in England alone?

At least on the latter, apparently we are. New data from the authoritative British Social Attitudes survey show that 61% of us are ready to pay more tax for the NHS, up strikingly from 49% in 2016 and 41% in 2014. For the first time, more than half of Conservative voters say they would dig deeper.

These remarkable findings tell us two things: first, for all its flaws, the health service at 70 continues to be held in deep affection by the British people; and second, May has a following wind for whatever she has in mind by way of a birthday gift.

But history offers us a third and salutary lesson: politicans tinker with the NHS at their peril.

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