Glasgow – A Society Where Time Has Stood Still
“When one thinks of the East of Glasgow – and the lucky ones are those who have to go no further than just think … If you seek Labour’s monument, look at this hellhole” (Heffer)
Poverty And The Media
In 2006, a research programme investigating public attitudes to poverty and inequality was launched by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. The role of the media, and in particular the news media, occupied a key element of the research agenda.
The role of the media in helping to shape public attitudes to poverty and welfare, an issue which had concerned researchers for some time was an important part of this research. One of the key findings was that UK poverty was generally a marginal issue for the news media, but, when poverty was reported, people experiencing poverty were either represented in a stigmatised way or as passive victims.
In the period 2004-2010 the media played an important role assisting government, helping to form and shape public attitudes to poverty, attitudes which hardened at the time the Labour Party were in power were further strengthened by the Tory/Lib/Dem government who view poverty as a consequence of behavioural inadequacies, providing opportunity to introduce harsh policies reducing levels of support for redistribution of wealth, satisfying media demands for tough measures against “benefit cheats.”
The Right Wing Press has It’s Say
Glasgow’s unenviable location at the top of UK morbidity and mortality league tables is a recurring theme in many of the stories featured across the right wing print media.
The Sunday Times: Who would you expect to live longer? an East Glaswegian or a man from Colombia, Albania or North Korea? The answer is that the Colombians, Albanians and North Koreans would drink a toast at the Glaswegian’s wake. The choice of Albania and North Korea is particularly poignant given the tendency also in some of the press reporting to construct Glasgow East with its high proportion of socially rented housing as a Stalinist housing monolith and state-dependent locale. Such comparisons are meant to shock – but they do not stop with these three countries.
The Times: Used the headline-grabbing quote, “Glasgow’s Guantanamo” stating: Glasgow East is a part of the world that defies exaggeration. Desultory buses head out from the city centre towards some of the worst areas of concentrated poverty in the Western world: Shettleston, Barlanark, Garthamlock, Easterhouse, Parkhead … communities that figure with monotonous regularity both on the charge sheet at Glasgow Sheriff Court and at the top of the lists of the most socially deprived wards in Britain. They might as well be called Guantanamo. For many thousands of welfare prisoners on sink estates, marooned by bad housing, violence, addiction, unemployment, ill health and shattered relationships, there is little chance of escape.
Daily Telegraph: A sense of despair pervades thousands of residents, half of whom live in social housing … The Sandwick Square shopping centre in Easterhouse epitomises a lot of what has gone wrong with Labour’s great post-war social experiment – the area’s sprawling mass of council estates. A sad collection of shops – Pound Saver, a pawnbroker, a bookmaker, Farm Foods.
The Independent: A deprived and neglected part of Glasgow, where a man who lives to be 55 can consider himself lucky … Glasgow East is a tough area, where 30 per cent of the working age population is on unemployment or incapacity benefit, nearly 40 per cent of children grow up in homes where there is no adult in paid employment, and three fifths of the people have no access to a car. The social services have many thousands of local children and adults on their books.
Two themes emerge that are worthy of note: the representation not only of Glasgow East as a universal indicator of social problems, but also of arguments that council housing had increasingly become a “problem” and that government policies were not working, or were insufficiently targeted at dealing with the ‘real’ problems as signified by Glasgow East and similar locales elsewhere in Scotland.
Families living in the East of Glasgow, experiencing poverty and associated disadvantages were reclassified, “other” by the Labour Westminster government. Words such as inadequate, dependent and disordered behavoir were used commonplace. People previously defined as “poor” and severely disadvantaged locales were “othered”, providing a clear indication of the ways in which the politics of poverty and state welfare were to be increasingly fought-out in the media. Such misrecognition was a social injustice and stood in the way of progressive approaches to poverty and social welfare.
Glasgow was stigmatised by Labour politicians and sections of the media as being wholly representative of the kind of ‘welfare dependent’ localities which “welfare reform” needed to address. Overwhelmingly, the portrayal of the city and the people who lived in it was highly negative, drawing upon stereotypical representations of poverty in disadvantaged urban localities.
Against the foregoing, forming part of a wider “agenda of change” the Labour government announced a new phase of “welfare ‘reform”. They started the process, soon after bringing forward proposals to abolish Incapacity Benefit and Income Support and to make the long-term unemployed work in exchange for benefit. The programme was picked up by the Con/Dem government, greatly expanded and introduced piecemeal causing great hardship, chaos and resentment in Glasgow and throughout Scotland. In the last 7 years the disabled, unemployed and otherwise disadvantaged in Glasgow have been subject to an increasingly punitive welfare regime marginalising them in society creating and fostering the new, “underclass.”
New Labour politician, Jim Murphy, in his paper said there existed a ‘poverty of aspirations’ and a culture of dependency that not only distinguished poor people but confined them to poverty. Glasgow is a city, in New Labour terms, that suffers from ‘aspirational deficit’. The needs for welfare dependency among Scots, cosseted by “English” money, signalled other emerging conflicts brought about by devolution. To rectify matters there existed a need to accept that the welfare system has become part of this breakdown, giving perverse incentives to too many people. It needed to be changed, to have a simple purpose, to move people from dependence to independence … http://www.smf.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2007/03/Publication-The-Politics-of-Aspiration.pdf
Dec 2008: Benefit Reforms – Glasgow To Be The First In Line For Benefit Changes
Plans to FORCE more benefit claimants to prepare for work or face losing payments are a “fair deal”, says Work and Pensions Secretary James Purnell. He said private firms would be paid to get people back to work while those unemployed for a year would have to do four weeks’ full-time activity. Most people on incapacity benefit would be expected to attend job interviews. The Conservatives said they would back the plans in the face of an expected “big rebellion” from Labour MPs. A welfare reform bill is expected to be published in January and any changes would come in in 2010/11.
Conservative work and pensions spokesman Chris Grayling told Mr Purnell the government had adopted Tory policies, adding: “That is why I can assure you today that there is no doubt, we know you are going to face a big rebellion on the Labour backbenches, can I assure you that we will give these proposals our support.”
For the Scottish National Party, John Mason MP said the reforms risked demonising the unemployed. “While we will look cautiously and constructively at the wider proposals, half-baked and draconian reforms are not the answer,” he said. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/7774113.stm
The Con/Dem Government 2010-2015
Iain Duncan Smith, MP for Chingford and Woodford Green in North London made a few well-publicised fact finding trips to Glasgow, following which he launched his, “Centre for Social Justice” report in 2008, detailing his perceptions of Glasgow’s welfare problems and remedial measures necessary to correct the situation. The term, “broken society” became commonplace and the Tory party and media quickly associated Glasgow with it”.
In the 2010 general election, Tory Party leader, David Cameron relied heavily on Smith’s “broken society” arguments, and, while wishing to avoid any suggestion that they were solely responsible for the media coverage of poverty evidenced in Glasgow, nonetheless they were instrumental in portraying the people of Glasgow in very disparaging terms, albeit as a way of highlighting New Labour’s failures. An extract from the report:
“Shettleston being one of the more deprived areas in Glasgow, ‘Shettleston Man’, is a particular problem subject: This individual has low life expectancy. He lives in social housing, drug and alcohol abuse play an important part in his life and he is always out of work. His white blood cell count killing him directly as a result of his lifestyle and its lack of purpose.”
The stark message being that ill-health, unemployment and poverty are primarily matters of individual failure, but also of personal responsibility. The all pervading thread evidenced thoughout the report covers, family breakdown, welfare dependency, debt, drugs, poverty, poor policing, housing, and failing schools but it goes deeper, projecting a society in danger of losing any sense of personal responsibility, social responsibility, common decency and, yes, even, public morality.
The way forward was for the individual to embrace the ‘work habit’. This was to be the driving force behind the Tory ‘Breakthrough Britain’ policy brought forward by Smith following his Damascus-like conversion on a previous 2003 visit to Glasgow. The ideas advanced by Smith and Cameron, central to Conservative Party thinking, provided strong indications of the likely policy directions of any future Conservative UK government and heavily influenced and further shaped “New Labour’s” plans to overhaul benefits entitlement in line with Jim Murphy’s approach outlined in his paper: http://www.smf.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2007/03/Publication-The-Politics-of-Aspiration.pdf
New Labour, in 2007-8 assisted by their Unionist Party colleagues and media conspiritors conducted an extended campaign against the people of Glasgow and Scotland demonising the newly identified, “underclass”. On completion of the softening up process there followed announcements concerning yet more rounds of welfare reforms invoking previously seeded ideas of welfare dependency and individualised explanations of poverty. The anti-welfare rhetoric continued unabated until the general election of 2010 and the aftermath of the Con/Dem government.
Scotland had a chance in September 2014 to break away from the smothering control of Westminster and “ping-pong” governance of Labour and Tory governments. The “Fear Campaign” conducted by Westminster and the media, including the supposedly impartial: BBC and the Civil Service was so powerful it frightened off sufficient numbers of Scot’s as to ensure the, “no” vote won the day.
Events since have provided evidence the “Yes” campaigners had got it right. Westminster, having refused the Scottish governments offer to include the Devo-Max option on the ballot and within the “Purdah” period, brought forward, through the “Daily Record”, a mish mash of “new” powers, to be devolved in the event of a “no” vote.
Two days before the referendum, Gordon Brown, ably assisted by the BBC was provided with nearly 3 hours of continuous television broadcast time addressing a group of Labour loyalists outlining the “new powers”. The measure had the desired effect, a 2% lead held be the “yes” campaign was lost.
Whilst the expressed will of the people of Scotland is to remain part of the UK an agenda needs to be drawn up so that discussions may be held seeking agreement as to new arrangements to be put in place.
The hastily prepared “Smith Report” is a joke document. It is entirely possible a “New” Westminster government made up of at least 50% “new” MP’s will reject it completely in favour of retaining the “status quo.” The “new” government is not bound to introduce anything agreed beforehand by a previous government.
The general election scheduled for 7 May 2015 provides opportunity for Scotland to send a clear and unambiguous message to the three Westminster Unionist parties that Scot’s will not be bullied, threatened nor told they are incapable of self-government.
Scotland’s voice will not be heard in Westminster through any party except the SNP. The legacy of 50 year’s of Labour Party control of Scotland through it’s so called Scottish MP’s is evidenced in the levels of deprivation and despair in Glasgow and other cities, towns and villages throughout Scotland. Scottish Labour MP’s sent to Westminster are expected to “toe the party line” and that line does not expressly include the needs of their constituents. Scottish Labour MP’s are Unionist in mind, body and action.