Culture Trips

The Glasgow Effect: examining the city’s life expectancy gap – a photo essay | UK news

In Glasgow people’s lives are cut short: male life expectancy in Possil is 66, in Penilee three young people took their own lives within the space of one week this June, suicide in Glasgow is 30% higher than in English cities, male life expectancy is seven years short of the UK average and women’s is four years less. This is not isolated to areas of deprivation – Glaswegians across all social classes experience a 15% reduction in life expectancy.

We have known about the “Glasgow Effect” for more than a decade. However, the root causes for Glasgow’s excess mortality are not in the public domain. The explanation lies in government policy – not with the individual and their lifestyle choices. Local and central government policies created an environment where segregation, alienation, mass unemployment, the generational trauma that followed, poverty and deprivation constitute a public health concern. During the 1970s and 80s Glasgow was in a “managed decline”. Unbeknown at the time, the city was starved of funding from Westminster.

Kirsty Mackay pictured with her parents in Maryhill, 1971.

It was a Victorian tenement flat called a “room and kitchen”. We had this room and one bedroom; the toilet was on the landing shared with the neighbours.

Springburn Road, Springburn. In 2019 Springburn saw the closure of it’s rail depot that had been running and providing employment for 163 years.

In the post-war period Glasgow faced a housing crisis. The local council demolished a great deal of the existing tenements and built new, in the form of high rise and peripheral estates. Entire communities were broken up, people were rehoused on a large scale.

Children wlaking home from school, Linkwood Drive, Drumchapel.

Glasgow Corporation used a form of social apartheid, rehousing the people of Glasgow by class. The least well-off were moved to the peripheral estates, with few amenities, poor transport links and fewer employment opportunities. These failed housing policies leave their mark on the landscape and in the lives of the people here.

Debbie holds her newborn baby, Anderston, Glasgow. That first journey home from the hospital, depending on which area home is, has a profound impact on health, well being and life expectancy.
Debbie’s newborn baby asleep in the Scottish baby box, which provides a safe place to sleep and comes full of baby essentials.

In Glasgow, as everywhere else a person’s place of birth has a huge bearing on their overall life chances. That first journey home from the hospital, depending on which area home is, will have an impact on health, well being and life expectancy.

The box was introduced by the Scottish government in 2017 to tackle infant poverty rates and is designed to give each child born in Scotland “the best start in life”.

Billy with his cousin Ellie, Easterhouse.
Billy, 19, Easterhouse. At school his teachers told him not to bother applying for university. Billy is now studying for a degree in politics.

At school Billy’s teachers told him not to bother applying for university. He is now studying for a degree in politics. “The thing that has an effect is the perception that because you are from Easterhouse, you can’t do that sort of thing. If you look at the alternative; I’d be alone, I’d be in prison or I’d be dead,” he says.

A young man shows off his ‘carry out’ of Vodka, Drumchapel shopping centre. “I’d like to take the narrative away from the symptoms of these health inequalities towards the root causes. The focus needs to shift from the individual to the legacy of political policy.”

Glasgow was built on heavy industry, so when Thatcher came to power in 1979 it was hit particularly hard by the escalated, rapid decline in industry that created mass unemployment across west central Scotland.

A memorial in Possilpark for Steven Russell, murdered in a knife attack at the age of 20.

‘The harm done to one generation has repercussions long after that harm is first acted out. Those who perpetrated the social violence that was done to the lives of young men starting some 20 years ago are the prime suspects for most of the murders in Britain’. Danny Dorling.

Kids with their dads, on the weekly Men Matter family walk in the countryside around Drumchapel.
The weekly Men Matter family walk

Men Matter are a peer support and suicide prevention charity based in Drumchapel, one of Glasgow’s peripheral housing estates.

Fraser on the Men Matter Football team, playing every week at Cloquhoun park. “It’s a safety net. It becomes a brotherhood, everybody becomes a brother and you look out for each other. If something happens you’ve got a good group of guys round about yea to help yea.” Fraser.

Life expectancy for men in Possilpark is 66. Male life expectancy varies by 12 years, depending on which side of the Drumchapel and Bearsden divide you come from.

Wee John, pictured on the border between the Drumchapel and Bearsden.

Wee John, pictured on the border between the Drumchapel and Bearsden.

Kaitlin, 23, at home in Springburn.

“I’ve been diagnosed with a chronic illness, been through two blocks of therapy, left uni, started a new job,” she says. “I feel it in my bones that good things are going to happen for me soon. I am powerful amazing and ready.”

Children wait in the queue for face painting, at the Women Against Capitalism ‘Care and Share’ event, Castlemilk.

Women Against Capitalism is a grassroots organisation finding ways to redistribute essentials to members of their local community. Its Care and Share events give out free food, clothes, baby and child equipment, while providing fun and entertainment in the local shopping centre.

Dionne with her dad Barry. Dionne is the Scottish Women’s Boxing champion, 2020

  • Dionne, 18, with her dad Barrie, Easterhouse.

Dionne is the Scottish women’s boxing champion, 2020. Barry has both his daughters’ names tattooed on his torso Dionne and Kecee-Leigh, who was stillborn. Dionne: “In 2019 at the start of the year I lost my auntie. Not long after that I lost a friend I grew up with. She was 16, just at the start of her life. I lost another of my friends. He was in a murder. He was 18 and then I lost another of my friends from Easterhouse.”

Premature mortality is defined as deaths under the age of 65.

From Castlemilk looking over Glasgow. “Glasgow is a city drenched in trauma”. Billy McMillan

  • Looking over Castlemilk, one of Glasgow’s big four peripheral housing estates, with the city in the distance.

Brought to light in 2000, through the freedom of information act, the UK government designated Glasgow in a “managed decline’. Like Detroit in the US and Liverpool in the UK. This economic policy deals with a city like you would a failing business, starving it of funding and running it into the ground. This policy was only reversed in the late 80s.

Kirsty Mackay with her parents, 1971.

In 2001 I lost my dad to cancer. He was 62. His death left me with many questions. Was he one of the 5,000 extra deaths that occur in Scotland each year? Did his environment have a bearing on his life expectancy? Do I carry the remnants of political policy in my own body? Will I pass this down to my own children? I was born and raised in Glasgow. My interest in this story comes from my personal connection. I am well placed to tell this story. I have both a strong emotional connection and a more objective point of view.

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