Leaders: Vision needed to improve Glasgow’s health

IT IS a statistic that forces you to read it twice, just in case you misunderstood the first time. But no, even on second reading it carries the same shocking message: Of all the boys born between 2010 and 2012 in a ­Glasgow maternity hospital, one in four will die before their 65th birthday.

Billions of pounds have been spent in Glasgow to encourage better health. Picture: PA

This is the kind of fact that you would associate with the Third World, not one of the most sophisticated and stylish cities in western Europe. And yet it is only one aspect of a Glaswegian record on life expectancy that should shock us – and shame us.

It is only fair to acknowledge that the life-expectancy gap ­between Glasgow and East Dorset – the parts of the UK with the worst and best record – is slowly beginning to close.

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And yet in Glasgow, the average life expectancy for a man is still just 72.6 years, and 78.5 years for a woman; in East Dorset the comparative ages are 82.9 for men and 86.5 for women.

For men that’s a gap of more than ten years – a full decade of life lived, or not lived. The human waste is hard to fully comprehend.

What is particularly depressing about this bleak reality is its stubborn ability to rebuff efforts to change it. Billions of pounds have been spent in Glasgow to encourage people into healthier eating and taking more exercise, to improve housing, to improve the nutrition given to children, to improve their education.

New developments in this area, such as free school meals for the youngest primary school kids, are welcome. But efforts to improve Glaswegians’ unhealthy lifestyles have been going on for decades, with marginal results at best.

Efforts to move Glasgow’s unemployed into work, and those claiming incapacity benefit into health, have also had limited success. Famously, there are whole streets in the east end of the city with no working families. And in some homes, three generations of the same family have not known gainful work.

Why can this be? The industrial decline often cited as the cause of the city’s problems happened more than two generations ago. The boy born in the Glasgow maternity hospital today is not a workless former shipyard fitter, but a citizen of the 21st century with all its progress and promise. And yet still there is a one-in-four chance he will not live long enough to collect his OAP’s bus pass.

It is easy to despair. But for some people, it seems, it is easier to turn the other way and ­concentrate on Scotland’s many upsides – for when did you last hear a leading Scottish politician say that the country’s number one priority was eradicating child poverty? Or pledge that closing the gap in life expectancy was the metric by which our politics should be judged?

It seems we do not have the kind of politicians with that kind of defining vision – even during a referendum campaign in which we are encouraged to imagine a better Scotland.

Ground down by people power

A RECENT trend in Starbucks coffee shops has been for the barista to ask the customer’s name, which is then written on the takeaway cup. The aim, no doubt, is to make the service more personal. But some customers have taken to stating their name as “Tax Payer”.

A token gesture? A futile stand? A hopeless protest against an all-powerful faceless multinational that has famously been loathe to pay tax in this country?

Perhaps we should not be so cynical. Yesterday Starbucks announced it will be moving its European headquarters to the UK, which the company says will mean it pays more corporation tax to the UK Treasury.

The reason for this volte face is clear: people power. Although it is hard to get reliable figures, there is anecdotal evidence that Starbucks’ stance on tax – last year it paid just £5 million in UK corporation tax, its first payment since 2009 – has cost it business.

Rival chains such as Costa have reported higher than expected growth since the tax story broke. And many small, independent coffee houses proudly display a sign that says: “We pay tax.”

The lesson from all this is simple: People should complain more. Because when they do, those in positions of power sometimes sit up and take notice.

This is especially true in the ­retail sector, which in every other respect goes out of its way to ­understand and meet the customer’s needs.

It is now clear that in addition to the decor, the range of cakes and sandwiches available and the choice of espresso on offer, customers also want their coffee shop to do the right thing and pay its taxes, just like any other individual or business.