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How You Live and Move: The Impact of Upcoming Local Elections

Time Magazine has described 2024 as the "Ultimate Election Year," with a record number of voters globally expected to participate, representing approximately 49% of the world's population. That includes you, your local council, and your country being involved in a historical period that likely to change the future of global democracy. Many are anticipating the general election date which has not been confirmed, yet a significant amount of us may be overlooking the importance of the upcoming 2024 United Kingdom elections on Thursday 2nd May.

The local elections in England, plus 10 mayoral elections across England including London and Greater Manchester, offer you the chance to participate in shaping local governance. While anticipation builds for the general election, where national issues like the cost-of-living, the NHS, and transportation systems take centre stage, it's important not to overlook the critical role of local government. These ongoing socioeconomic challenges demand attention during electoral periods, and local elections present an opportunity to address them effectively. Councils wield a tangible influence on your daily life, often more than you might realise.

Consider public transportation, for example. Local road and rail infrastructure play a vital role in enhancing community health, fulfilling economic prosperity, reducing pollution, alleviating traffic congestion, and enhancing mobility. Private vehicles, including cars, remain a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, which continue to escalate on a yearly basis. The Global Centre for Clean Air Research at the University of Surrey collaborated with a nearby school and the Guildford community to investigate the impact of vehicles on air quality in and around school premises during drop-off and pick-up times.

Research findings reveal a troubling threefold increase in air pollution affecting children during school commutes, primarily attributed to vehicles queuing up for drop-offs. Addressing air pollution is imperative, necessitating governance at local, national, and global levels to safeguard everyone, particularly children whose developing lungs and brains makes them especially vulnerable to air pollution. The tragic death of nine-year-old Ella Kissi-Debrah in 2013 marked the first recorded instance of a fatality directly attributed to air pollution. Air pollution remains a public health crisis, which can lead to a wide range of diseases including stroke, aggregated asthma, heart disease, and respiratory infections, and may exacerbate those with existing illnesses.

Your elected representative could develop a programme to support children to walk, cycle, and commute to school by reducing traffic outside and improving air quality. This would create an easier and safer way for children to walk and cycle to school. According to the Greater London Authority, most pollution in London is caused by road transport and domestic and commercial heating systems. It is your civil right to use your vote as your voice and ensure it is aligned with a local government that addresses concerns about the public health of your community.

Housing is a human right and the provision of equal access to housing - such as council housing - plays an important role in our society, providing vital support to the most vulnerable individuals in securing housing and preventing homelessness. Council building has seen a worrying decline in the past decade, resulting in over 200,000 homeless individuals in temporary shelters and countless more living on the streets. 1.2 million households are on the waiting list for temporary accommodation. Research also shows that young people are the group most likely to experience homelessness, and often miss out on social housing and face higher rent and inaccessible mortgages. Your local council has the power to develop housing building policies to address this issue to ensure communities are not divided from one another. Gentrification holds a disadvantage of local communities affording a higher cost of living which can feel disheartening, especially considering the current economic climate.

Local councils should formulate strategies to increase the availability of affordable housing, identify obstacles which prevent new construction, and set targets for home development, whilst upkeeping high building standards so tragedies like the Grenfell fire in 2017 can never be repeated. By implementing positive and affordable changes, communities can thrive in the future. To tackle the housing shortage, which disproportionately affects young people, councils could implement statutory housing obligations specifically targeting this demographic, with a focus on the most vulnerable individuals.

When was the last time you visited your local library? Even if it has been a while, libraries are wonderful, affordable spaces that serve as a community gathering space. They support literacy, access to education, and record knowledge created and accumulated by generations. If libraries ceased to exist, it would be challenging to advance research and human knowledge or preserve the world's cumulative knowledge and heritage for future generations. Invented five thousand years ago, libraries have managed to stand the test of time. Today, many libraries in London offer co-working and study spaces, as well as designated warm spaces for those in need. Culturally, they have managed to adapt to the post-covid form of working and collaboration. But financially, they are being heavily underfunded.

Under the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act, local authorities are mandated to deliver 'comprehensive and efficient' library services. However, this statutory duty has faced criticism from librarians in the UK due to the Act's lack of clear definition regarding practical implementation. Libraries are facing neglect and inadequate support. Councils in England have reduced their expenditure on this service by one quarter – a total of 232.5m. It may be worth researching what your local representative focuses on with regards to the preservation of libraries. Libraries remain our pillars of civilisation and cultural heritage. Local representatives should advocate for increased funding allocated to libraries, measure efficiency to reduce costs without sacrificing services, and educate the public on the importance of community hubs. These changes would allow libraries to thrive and adapt their offering in the 21st century rather than fall behind.

Transportation, air pollution, local planning, libraries, and housing are just a few of the critical areas under the authority of your local council. These issues profoundly impact how we live, breathe, move, and educate ourselves. Your community deserves representation from elected officials who address these pivotal concerns effectively. As a voter in local elections, you act as a voice for your community, advocating for key issues and holding elected officials accountable. This accountability serves as an instrument for driving social change. Voting is a fundamental function of a democratic society, ensuring that local government policies align with the values of the people.

Voice4Change England is virtually hosting the Local Elections Event: Cost-of-Living Crisis on Thursday 25th April. Reserve your space here – it's free!

Important things to note: Register by 11:59pm on 16 April 2024 to vote in the following elections on 2 May 2024. In respect of our #VoterID Awareness Campaign #YourVoteYourVoice, (this campaign took place between August 2023 and the end of February 2024) please do not forget to bring a form of identification when you are voting – see more on the UK Government’s guidelines.

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