‘The Glasgow Effect’ and why it REALLY MATTERS

I LOVE GLASGOW. The people, the art, the culture, the buzz. Quite simply, Glasgow is like nowhere else in the world.

Born an Edinburger (Portobello, to be precise – once a beach-o-phile, always a beach-o-phile), I have come home. I love this beautiful, vibrant, friendly city. There is nowhere I would rather live and work. It feeds my soul.

Live fast, die young?

Too much of a good thing?

Why is Glasgow so bad for our health?

Deep fried pizza’s, pies and crème eggs? Square sausage? Tennents? Even I can’t stomach that.

Life expectancy in Glasgow is lower than anywhere else in the UK. One in four men will die before their 65th birthday.

After adjusting for poverty and deprivation, next to comparable de-industrialised cities such as Liverpool and Manchester, Glaswegians have a 30% higher risk of dying prematurely. That’s from cancer, heart disease, stroke as well as the ‘deaths of despair’ (suicide, drugs and alcohol).

In fact, health inequalities in Glasgow (the gap between the rich and the poor) is wider than in any other European city.

And it’s rising.

“We die young here, but you just take the hand that life deals you and you get on with it.”

Noooooooo. It’s not fair. It’s not acceptable. It’s not inevitable. Tragic Glasgow widows and widowers, resigned to our fate. The magic of Glasgow?

What’s going on?

Boris Johnson; a decade of austerity; and the abhorrent cuts just made to Universal Credit. These things keep me awake at night (as well as my giant Labrador).

It’s not often I get to point at our American cousins as beacons of compassion.

Post Pandemic, Joe Biden authorises a Rescue Plan which sees 161 million payments go out to provide immediate relief to American families. His Plan is projected to lift five million children out of poverty and cut child poverty across America by more than half.

We could reduce health inequalities in the UK overnight.

Investing in the welfare and healthcare system (our beloved NHS), a redistribution of wealth (a wealth tax on the top 1% – I’ve seen it costed by our top economists), lifting people out of poverty, a prioritising of health, wellbeing and people, a universal living wage. Stopping NHS privatisation. Caring.


Meanwhile we see increasing death rates amongst the poorest in society.

I can’t get my head around that.

Over the past ten years, clearly linked to the UK Government’s Austerity Measures, people in the 20% most deprived areas are dying in increasing numbers.

Before that, health was improving across the board, albeit more slowly in poor areas compared to rich areas.

I’ll let that sink in.

Because really, it’s a staggering change for a wealthy country like the UK, in 2021.

Hell, delay the investment in HS2, the Trident Warhead Replacement Programme, Heathrow’s Third Runway. PEOPLE ARE DYING.

It should be keeping us awake at night.

There should be an uprising (ah, yes of course, there might be had the UK Government not just removed our right to peaceful protest).

Britain’s ‘Grand Cull of the Unworthy’ (©LaurenLloyd 2021) now accelerates to breakneck speed following the Covid 19 pandemic. It focuses us starkly on increasingly precarious and adverse working conditions, growing economic disparities, anti-democratic political processes and institutions, all of which interact horribly with existing social vulnerabilities: class; ethnicity; gender; educational opportunity; disability; mental health.

Meanwhile on the lush green side of the country estate, money makes money. Never more so than a global pandemic which causes an unprecedented surge in opportunity. Business Consultants; Shareholders; Politicians; People Who Sorta Dabble in PPE and Track-Tracing. The pandemic sees the creation of record numbers of millionaires, billionaires and people who can now afford very luxury chocolate, even mid-week. The swines.

These changes are not-specific to Glasgow, so why is Glasgow’s health so much worse?

To understand the ‘Glasgow Effect’ requires an understanding Glasgow’s unique social history. A beautiful city full of character, but a toxic combination of the worst living conditions historically and sadly, a lot of really bad political decision making.

Post war, levels of poverty seem similar across Glasgow, Liverpool and Manchester, but Glasgow’s housing conditions are far worse. Large scale, poor quality peripheral housing estates and high-rise living.

New towns are built to deal with the housing shortage, but not everyone can move there. A selection process targets people who have jobs, skills, trades and younger families with children. It decimates communities and essentially leaves behind a vulnerable Glasgow population that is old, unemployable and sick.

By the time we get to the 1980’s, a Conservative Government under the leadership of Margaret Thatcher embarks on a number of policies that blight (post) industrial cities like Glasgow.

Liverpool and Manchester seem to take action which better protects the poor. It results in more politically engaged communities. After the Toxteth riots in Liverpool for example, the city council goes out of its way to create stronger communities.

In Glasgow, people are decanted to temporary accommodation, high rise flats. Communities are broken up, so that supportive friends and neighbours are gone. Jobs disappear and people are left feeling helpless. The result is a huge gulf in self-worth, self-efficacy (people’s belief in their ability to achieve) and self-control between the rich and poor.

Glasgow’s history becomes mightily relevant as we attempt to ‘level up’ post-pandemic. In the first instance, I’d settle for slowing down the rate of The Cull of the bottom 20%. Like Hunger Games, good should triumph over evil.

The two elephants in the room are whether the current UK Government has the will to address socio-economic inequalities, and whether Scotland alone has the power to.

Scotland talks about it. Economic strategies to level up are at the heart of Scottish Government. Like or loath the SNP, it’s pretty progressive stuff. But in terms of raising taxes in a way that promotes redistribution of wealth, addressing work poverty, Zero Hours contracts, setting a living wage, (the current scandalous changes to) social security – these require changes to Employment Law and are reserved to the UK Government.

We need the Scottish Government to do everything they can to help those most affected, both by the pandemic and by the UK Government’s response to it, including the removal of the Universal Credit uplift.

We need additional powers around Employment Law to deal with some of the fundamental causes of unacceptable inequality.

Most importantly we need change from the bottom-up. Permissive policies that ask people what matters to them and seeks to support people in ways that people themselves find helpful. Give our young people a sense of achievement, aspiration, self-efficacy and self-esteem.

Hope is being able to see there is light despite all the darkness.

Glasgow can be Smiles Better.

Read more about The Glasgow Effect and the explanation of excess mortality in Scotland and Glasgow: https://www.gcph.co.uk/assets/0000/5988/Excess_mortality_final_report_with_appendices.pdf

Next up: Bready Or Not, Here I Crumb. Auld Reekie Versus the Dear Green Place, a 300 year old rivalry that began over an argument about bread.

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