People living on the most polluted roads could find it harder to get insurance, pay inflated prices for policies, or even struggle to get a mortgage, according to one actuary.
At a recent protest against dangerous levels of air pollution, actuary Andrew Smith said insurers could see those most exposed to air pollution as a higher risk because of the known effects of toxic air, responsible for an estimated 40,000 premature deaths per year in the UK. Smokers are charged higher life insurance premiums for the same reason.
Meanwhile this week London’s new Mayor, Sadiq Khan, announced new measures, including an extended Ultra Low Emissions Zone, to restrict the most polluted vehicles from entering the capital in a bid to tackle toxic air believed to be responsible for an estimated 9,400 premature deaths per year.
Smith, a partner at Deloitte, who has authored 40 research papers, said at the pollution protest: “When you buy life insurance insurers like to work out how likely you are to die.
“If a few insurers can work out areas of high and low pollution, they can disrupt the market by offering special deals for people in low pollution areas and you’ll soon find the people living in the most polluted areas can’t get life insurance - or only at inflated prices.”
Smith said although air pollution does not appear on any death certificate, it is possible to compare deaths from cancer, heart attack and lung disease between more and less polluted areas and, controlling for variables such as income, estimate the effect of air pollution on mortality. In the UK it is estimated around 40,000 people per year die prematurely due to the effects of air pollution.
“This has knock on implications, for example if you’re trying to get a mortgage, or if you own a house and you’re trying to rent it out, or you’re trying to move house; anywhere near a busy road you’re going to see this effect,” he said.
This may sound like bad news, but Smith believes the insurance market could act as a stimulus for positive change – particularly if there is a financial impact on individuals.
He said: “Just as people fit smoke alarms and window locks to benefit from cheaper house insurance, I believe we’re going to see momentum in campaigns to exclude fossil fuel burning vehicles from roads in order to get cheaper life insurance.”
Could it be that people living beside cycle superhighways will see favourable insurance premiums compared to those on roads without cycle infrastructure?
On Friday Sadiq Khan proposed a raft of new measures to tackle air pollution in London, including a “T-Charge” for vehicles with the most toxic exhaust fumes, which would be applied on top of the existing Congestion Charge, according to the Evening Standard.
Khan also proposed an extension of the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), which is planned for the city centre in 2020, but only covers zone 1 under current plans. It could now cover the area between the North Circular Road and South Circular Road, and be brought in earlier. Those whose vehicles don’t comply with ULEZ standards would pay £12.50 to enter the zone.
Other proposed measures, as reported by the Standard, include:
Khan pledged before his election to pedestrianise Oxford Street, and revive plans to pedestrianise Parliament Square, through which the new East-West Cycle Superhighway runs.