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Broken Britain: Inverclyde – the most deprived constituency in Scotland

View over Port Glasgow | Alamy

4 min read

Thatcher ripped the heart of out of communities like Inverclyde – we need radical change to end this cycle of poverty

Inverclyde contains areas of high deprivation which rank amongst the worst in the United Kingdom. It also has areas of wealth and affluence which rank amongst the highest in the UK. This isn’t unusual – wealth and poverty are linked. Vast profits are generated from the labour of poorly paid workforces, working long hours in unsafe conditions. Some parts of the community benefit and others bear the brunt of the disparity in wealth. 

We like to think workplace conditions have improved in the UK and mostly, due to the trade union movement, they have; but as consumers, in a worldwide marketplace, we still procure goods that rely on a subjugated workforce and contribute to the destruction of our planet, whether that be children mining lithium for smart phones and electric car batteries or the destruction of the rainforest for tea, coffee, palm oil and cattle.

These are current examples of an old scenario which only goes to show that the situation in Inverclyde is not new. We didn’t become an area of deprivation and wealth overnight. In much the same way as we now see the local workforces in third world countries being maltreated in the pursuit of profit, a quick review of the growth of the major towns of Greenock and Port Glasgow reveals extreme poverty, slum housing and poor health.

Decades of grinding poverty have been passed down from generation to generation and the traditional employment sectors have all but been removed. Lack of meaningful employment, damp housing, and few, if any, opportunities combine to create poor mental and physical health. 

Sir Harry Burns, professor of global public health at the University of Strathclyde and former chief medical officer for Scotland, stated that doctors are obsessed with the causes of disease rather than the causes of what he calls “wellness”. In a lecture, he added: “As a doctor at the Royal [Glasgow Royal Infirmary], I never once wrote a death certificate saying the cause of death was living in a horrible house or unemployment. People die of molecular deaths, such as proteins coagulating in arteries and causing heart attacks and strokes. Yet we know that poor social conditions lead to poor health and premature deaths.” 

The situation in Inverclyde is not new. We didn’t become an area of deprivation and wealth overnight

Jimmy Reid, trade unionist and later rector of the University of Glasgow, spoke of the “alienation, the cry of men who were victims of blind economic forces beyond their control, a feeling of despair and hopelessness,” he observed thoughtfully. “People who do not feel in control over their lives struggle because the system does things to them – it doesn’t work with them and help them create ‘wellness’ for themselves. When things happen that alienate people, they lose that sense of control and a whole range of biological, as well as psychological, things occur.” 

Throughout the second half of the 20th century in a series of misguided attempts to build better housing, we ripped the heart out of communities, built modern day slums and destroyed the support networks that existed within the families and friends who had helped and supported each other in dark times. Through the Thatcher years, the shipbuilding industry was decimated, nothing replaced it and generations that relied on work in the yards were thrown onto the scrap heap. When Margaret Thatcher said there was no such thing as society, she effectively condemned communities to die, and the self-serving “greed is good” culture was born. 

Over the decades that has simply compounded the problems that previously existed and in 2023 we need radical change to end poverty which sits at the heart of so many of society’s problems. As William Beveridge wrote in 1942, “a revolutionary moment in the world’s history is a time for revolution not for patching”. 
 

Ronnie Cowan is SNP MP for Inverclyde

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