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The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

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The games was a health boost for Glasgow

This feature is over 9 years old

Health and poverty in Glasgow might go hand-in-hand but some academics believe the two are not linked

Part of the games’ legacy is to improve Glasgow’s health by increasing sporting activity.

The city council says it is doing this by increasing sporting activity, funding amateur sports, building better public sport facilities and supporting a tranche of health initiatives for the long-term wellbeing of the city’s one million plus inhabitants.

But there is deep-rooted cynicism about whether these measures will make any credible impact on a city with one of the worst public health records in western Europe.

For many it is too little too late as Glasgow persistently shows the lowest life expectancy figures in the UK with few cities coming even close to knocking it off its perch.

A male child born in Glasgow in 2012 will have a life expectancy of 72.6 and a female 78.5 against UK averages of 78.9 and 82.7. Only 75% of boys and 85% of girls born in the city are expected to reach their 65th birthday.

It’s not a psyche or a condition; it’s the fact Glasgow has suffered worse than other cities - Nick Bailey

Obesity, diabetes, diet and alcohol consumption are all cited as reasons for a hated term among researchers, the “Glasgow effect” - a term that has become synonymous with a fatalism affecting Glaswegians as if they are victims of a situation they cannot control.

However Nick Bailey, senior researcher in urban studies and expert on housing and poverty at the University of Glasgow, doesn’t see it as so much of a mystery.

While he can’t point to the answer or the solution for Glasgow’s unenviable health record, he believes post-industrial Glasgow has been facing a unique set of problems from which it has struggled to recover ever since.

“When you understand that something like 80% of all manufacturing in Glasgow disappeared between 1971 and 2001 then you begin to realise the scale of the demise,” he said.

“You have to ask yourself where these people who worked in these industries went. How did it affect their lives? When you look at the statistics it has been a rapid, unprecedented demise which is taking decades to level out.”

He points to the fact that middle-class families also suffer worse health statistics than families from similar economic backgrounds in Manchester and Liverpool – some affluent Glasgow neighbourhoods suffer 15% higher mortality rates – as being proof the problem is environmental.

“We don’t know what these factors are but I think the long-term loss of traditional industry has created a malaise that has been naturally difficult to escape,” he says.

“It’s not a psyche or a condition; it’s the fact Glasgow has suffered worse than other cities and that suffering continues to filter down.”

The Glasgow Centre for Population Health has been running the GoWell project since 2004 in an effort to tackle health inequalities.

It looks into how community and neighbourhood renewal – regeneration in other words – affects people’s health.

What’s unique about the project is that it is using its research to help create new ways of working in communities. It regularly feeds into the Scottish Government, Glasgow Housing Association and health boards so they can crete new polices around its findings.

Its research has found, for example, that while moving to a new house does not in itself engender better health, it can be the catalyst to address other issues such as smoking or general fitness.

Others believe the problem might well be alleviated by social integration projects – third sector initiatives placing individuals in control of their lives and building their self-esteem.

Peter Grant, who runs the Furniture Workshop in Glasgow’s Craigend believes the city can easily escape the sick man of Europe label if there is more support for organisations that are boosting self-confidence and giving responsibility to young people.

His workshop which reconditions furniture for resale takes on young unemployed people, many of whom have never worked.

“Confidence has been chipped away and their status is constantly being questioned,” he says.

“No-one is valuing these young people; no-one is investing in them. No wonder they take to drink, to drugs. I would too if I were being told if I don’t get work I’m worthless. And worse than that, you’re living in a city that makes it harder for you to escape that situation than any other city in western Europe.

“So they get dragged down by the fatalism – they live up to the label. I don’t see that as a mystery; I think it’s fairly obvious. It’s nonsense to think a 12-day event is going to even address these issues.”