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To Trissie, Lea, Leo, Toby, Lorcan and more (our children),
You are all in your mid-twenties now, thriving and still living in London. We are so glad you are still around the corner from your mums and we get to see you regularly. And we are even more excited that none of you have asthma now because London’s air is no longer polluting its residents. But there was a long period – 2017 until 2022, when you were babies and small kids and we really thought you would end up having bad asthma, perhaps lung cancer, definitely have stunted lungs and heart issues from the huge levels of pollution that you inhaled with every breath you took. It was a scary and frustrating time. To protect you and all the other kids from this fate, mums, dads, grandparents and other people came together and campaigned in the evenings, after work, at weekends and sometimes with you joining us, and sometimes when you would have much preferred us to be home looking after you. But we knew we had to do this for your future and your health.
In 2016, 9000 people were dying in London alone prematurely from air pollution every year. The sources of air pollution were well-known: road transport, especially toxically polluting diesel vehicles, wood burning (including open fires and so-called eco-stoves that were finally banned in 2023) and construction. Children across the capital were growing up with stunted lungs and 1 in 10 kids had asthma. One third of those kids would not have had asthma, if it hadn’t been for air pollution, isn’t that crazy? All this preventable disease, illness, unhappiness. The NHS was really pressured by this too. And yet, for many years the Government did not step in to get rid of diesel cars, discourage driving, and ensure that those with other heat sources stopped burning at home.
We campaigned constantly, writing letters, speaking in schools, supporting parents in campaigning for School Streets across the country, working with people who were already moving house due to their neighbours burning in legal stoves that were in fact creating toxic air pollution levels in their living rooms and neighbours’ bedrooms.
Finally, a new Government in 2022 looked at the evidence from the Covid19 pandemic and agreed: health is the most important value. They decided that everyone needed protection, the young and the old, those with underlying health conditions – really everyone. They committed to cleaning up the air and by 2030, pollution was reduced in alignment with World Health Organisation recommendations. Asthma rates dropped. High pollution episodes with their knock-on effects of huge hospital admissions and premature births became a thing of the past. And the lungs of London’s children are no longer smaller than those of the children in Snowdonia.
As you can imagine, the savings to the NHS and the economy went into the billions, and everyone breathed freer in all senses. We got our evenings back, and our beautiful children got a chance at growing up healthier.
With all our love,
Jemima, Jane and Ruth
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