An estimated 9,400 Londoners a year die early because of problems caused by toxic air and the Labour leader spoke of his concerns about his own Holborn and St Pancras constituency, saying there was a “real air pollution problem” on Euston Road.
Speaking on the UCL Health of the Public podcast, Sir Keir praised the efforts of Camden council to reduce car use and said: “If deaths from air pollution were recognised for what they are, they ought to be front page news in terms of the numbers of people that die.”
He said the approach the country took to rebuilding the economy in the wake of the pandemic was “the issue of our time”.
Referring to the post-war Labour government and the administrations of Harold Wilson and Tony Blair, he said it was vital to tackle inequalities “brutally exposed by this pandemic” and to understand the importance of mental health and wellbeing.
He said: “People’s wellbeing and fulfilment in life isn’t measured only in pounds and pence, it is measured in the broader quality of their lives. And health and mental health are a fundamental part of that.”
Sir Keir also spoke at length about the links between inadequate housing and crime, saying overcrowding can lead to teenagers spending too much time on the streets and being drawn into gangs.
He said half of the people who came to his constituency surgery sought help with housing problems.
“You’ve got mum, dad and two or three children in a one or two bedroom flat, and the children are growing up,” he said.
“That is a health issue in terms of the living conditions that very quickly accelerates into an education issue, because by the time the child is at secondary school, you can almost guarantee that mum or dad is going to come with a letter from the school saying that their son or daughter is now failing at school, because they’ve got nowhere at home to do meaningful work or homework or anything like that.
“It then accelerates into a criminal justice issue because, particularly for teenage boys, if you’ve got three teenage boys, and one bedroom, it’s intolerable, and they go outside, and they will then go and accumulate in groups outside on the streets and squares, in parks, because they can’t bear to be cooped up inside a tiny flat.
“The next thing you know, the code that binds them is not anymore – the rules at home [are replaced] with the rules are on the street.”