No excuses for the Third World on our doorstep
So the poor are getting poorer while the north-south divide is getting wider. Now where have I heard this before? Could it be on every radio station for the past 30 years? I’ve read the headlines over and over again. If you can have deja vu multiplied, this is it.
The figures change a bit, but the report is basically the same. It’s all about the Fourth World, which is the Third World on our doorstep.
For instance, we have known for years that people in poorer areas of our land die considerably younger than those in the more affluent parts. Report after report has borne out this simple, brutal fact. Each investigation over the years has had its five minutes of publicity, and is then forgotten, until the next one comes along. We have no excuses. We know.
We have seen the deadly figures for the housing schemes and inner city areas. They tell us, for instance, that average life expectancy in Drumchapel is substantially less than in neighbouring Bearsden. No honeyed words can obliterate the graffiti of disease and death.
In other words: in our land of plenty, poverty still kills.
In eight years of living and working in Easterhouse I saw these infernal statistics in flesh and blood, in doctors’ surgeries, in hospital wards and at crematoriums.
What I also witnessed up close was the tremendous resilience of the survivors.
The Labour government acknowledged the problem when it first came into office. At one stage Alistair Darling was appointed to oversee the tackling of poverty and social exclusion. ‘Fifty years on,’ he intoned, ‘a child can still be born poor, live poor and die poor.’
He said that before he moved on to sort out the railways, or something.
To be fair, the Labour government has done quite a bit to tackle poverty. Gordon Brown’s redistributive instincts have been shown in several budgets. A substantial number of children have been taken out of poverty.
Margaret Curran, the Scottish Executive’s communities minister, has put poverty at the top of her agenda, and her enthusiasm and commitment cannot be faulted. In some of the housing schemes, a programme of demolition and renewal has improved the lives of many people.
The figures tell their own story. The problem is two-fold. The UK as a whole has become steadily more affluent over the years, which has meant that even though life in some of the big housing schemes and inner city areas has improved, the gap has widened. But there are also intractable problems.
As long as the housing schemes are the Sowetos of the UK, the problem will not improve. ‘You can’t throw money at the problem’ is the great mantra, but it’s only half true. Targeted resources, worked out in partnership with the people who live in the areas of poverty, can have a very positive impact, both on quality of life and morale.
The Labour government’s efforts have been encouraging, but the real problem is that it is afraid to cause electoral pain. Its obsession with ticking boxes, phoney targets, and spin has unmanned New Labour. All this at a time when two landslide victories gave Labour an unassailable majority and mandate.
Dealing with poverty is not a simplistic matter. It requires a multi-faceted approach. It also requires a long-term strategy, commitment in depth, and a willingness to risk electoral unpopularity.
The truth is that despite some good programmes, what should have been the most radical Labour government in generations has opted for milder reforms that won’t startle the Bearsden horses.
Source: The Herald