According to a Public Health England study published 18 months ago, nearly two thirds of adults in England were classed as overweight or obese. Possibly worse, nearly 30% of children between the ages of 2 and 15 are overweight or obese. Unfortunately younger generations are becoming obese at earlier ages and staying obese. It’s only going to get worse.
The NHS estimated that it spent £6.1 billion on overweight and obesity-related ill-health in the 2014-15 financial year. The estimate for the wider economy dwarfs this – it’s £27 billion. Never mind Brexit, that’s a year-on-year bill that nobody seems quite as concerned about – you’re highly unlikely to see that on the side of a bus. Much of this is put down the food and drink manufacturers – and there is clearly a link, but it’s not the whole story. The government has already started taxing sugary drinks, which is somewhat akin to sticking a finger in the hole after the Titanic hit the iceberg. The other side of the “eat less, move more” equation is physical activity – or more rather, lack of it.
In another report by Public Health England, it forecasts that the health and social care costs of air pollution in England could reach £5.3 billion by 2035. These costs are drawn from the cost of treating diseases with a strong association to air quality – child asthma, lung cancer, stroke and heart disease.
Auto Express suggests traffic congestion costs the UK £38 billion.
As this is a blog about bikes you can probably see where I’m going with this.
In 2017 the government published its £1.2 Billion long-term plan to make cycling and walking the natural choice for shorter journeys. Commendable, and very much a step/pedal in the right direction. But £1.2 Billion is a fraction of the the eye-wateringly large numbers above.
The report has some compelling targets and some very interesting numbers in it. For example, if the UK could achieve the same levels of cycling as Denmark (sounds reasonable) the NHS would save £17 Billion within 20 years, and shifting just 10% of journeys from cars to bikes would save 400 productive life years due to the reduction in pollution. The report states objectives that by 2020, will:
- increase cycling activity (including making the roads a sfare place for all users)
- increase walking activity
- reduce the rate of cyclists killed or seriously injured on England’s roads
- increase the percentage of children aged 5 to 10 that usually walk to school
In 2016 102 cyclists were killed on the roads (94 adults and 8 children). 3,397 were seriously injured and 13,314 slightly injured. It’s only my subjective view but the roads feel like they are getting more dangerous, and that it will be hard to meet these objectives without the government driving through some fundamental changes in social attitudes to driving similar to that which happened with drink-driving. However, it took a generation for that to move from acceptable behaviour to anti-social behaviour, helped by stronger sentences and the real risk of consequences if caught. Contrast that to the current state of driving on our roads
- widespread use of smart phones whilst driving
- lack of regard for speed limits
- increasing wilful disregard for traffic signals, especially during commuting hours
- more and more car safety features giving drivers a false sense of ability and security
- driving a car being seen as a right rather than a privilige, to the detriment of all other road users
- government wasting time and money on new laws that work against cycling
- an almost total lack of enforcement by an otherwise stretched police force
- traffic increasing year on year
So, whilst I see some positives that government is starting to wake up to the need to have a set of integrated policies – which would free up resources for the NHS, reduce congestion, improve air quality and generally make people healthier and happier – cycling still feels pretty much marginalised. There is still a sense that cyclists (and to a lesser extent pedestrians) are the problem rather than the solution, and motorists certainly seem to think they have more “rights” to use roads.
Looking at the absolute debacle that is Brexit I despair that this government (or any government frankly) will be in any way competent and capable enough of making any of this happen and following through on their strategy. For the good of everyone, not just cyclists, let’s hope I’m wrong.