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The Working Life of Linda Fabiani MSP
W/E 3rd April 2005

Fortnight beginning Monday March 28th

Well, Sunday 10th April and heading back to Edinburgh tomorrow morning for the new parliamentary session following the two-week Easter Recess. It’s been an interesting fortnight, catching up with the backlog of correspondence, house visits for constituency cases, community groups and events. And, of course, campaigning for the forthcoming UK election, mainly around my home constituency of East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow with our prospective candidate Douglas Edwards. Thoroughly enjoying it! I’ve also been at two really upbeat Adoption Meetings in Airdrie and in Coatbridge – again, smashing prospective candidates in Malcolm Balfour and Duncan Ross. Good luck to them all.

Sometimes when you’re campaigning you meet someone who really ‘gets to you’. This weekend it was an old soldier – over 90 years of age, full of patter and fun who thoroughly entertained me for a good half-hour in the street, telling me about his war service and how life has since treated him. He’s not a constituent of mine, and I am aware that I only know his side of the story, but it cannot be right that this man, who was a prisoner of war, and worked all his life, is living alone in what I can only describe as a one-room hovel and waiting for years for word of a move to a sheltered housing complex. He’s been on my mind ever since, in terms of the fascinating life he’s led, his optimism about life and his level of activity, and my shame about his living conditions in a country so potentially rich as ours. I have to get someone who can to look into this, if Mr. X will accept help. This is of course sometimes the problem with older people; the pride that sees help that they’re well entitled to as ‘charity’.

I must also admit though that during the fortnight’s recess I had a couple of relaxing days here and there with old friends. One particular highlight was heading off to Callendar for a day of mooching around, snacking in tearooms and browsing in gift shops. It had been years since I’d visited Aberfoyle and Callendar and was struck all over again by the beauty and serenity of the Trossachs. I do remember how as a child one of the highlights every year was the bus tour of the five lochs with Granny and Aunty Joey – we always set off from Weir’s Tours office in Scotstoun, Glasgow, me in my Sunday costume and straw hat. We drove round for what seemed like hours ending up in Callendar for a fish tea. I was always sick on the bus, no matter what old wives’ remedies Aunty Jo came up with – sit on a newspaper/close your eyes when we turn a corner/sit backwards/sook some barley-sugar. Probably her preventative measures were what made me sick!

When I spoke of my old soldier pal earlier, I referred to this potentially rich country of ours. Since I last submitted my diary for Flag in the Wind, some readers at home and overseas have been in touch about recent press articles covering poverty and deprivation in Glasgow, our largest city. The facts are stark:

    ·       41% of Glasgow households live in poverty
    ·       Three quarters of Scotland’s poorest areas are in Glasgow
    ·       A third of Scotland’s worst council wards for unemployment are in Glasgow
    ·       40% of Glasgow families are single parent families
    ·       Over 100,000 adult Glasgow residents are economically inactive
    ·       In the UK Glasgow has the largest number of people on incapacity benefit outside of London

A recent publication by the much respected Joseph Rowntree Foundation – Strategies Against Poverty – highlights Glasgow as having the worst levels of deprivation in the United Kingdom:

Then there’s health. The last figures from the Office of National Statistics show that men and women living in Glasgow can expect to live shorter lives that people from any other part of the UK. A direct result of high levels of poverty and deprivation. Scotland generally fared badly on life expectancy figures -  of the 10 UK local authorities with the lowest life expectancies, six were north of the border. Unsurprisingly the 10 areas with the highest life expectancies were in the South of England.

Seems like nothing much has changed since the Red Clydesiders were highlighting Glasgow poverty in the 1920s – 80+ years ago. How can this be? There is something far wrong in a rich country like Scotland if a sizeable proportion of citizens in its largest, most vibrant, city live in poverty. Yes, there are well-off pockets in Glasgow – the West End, parts of the South Side – but the reality is that the gap between the richest and the poorest is widening all the time. A walk round Hyndland, followed by a walk round Possil, is an eye-opener. The problem is not the folk who live in Possil. Most of them have the same aspirations as most folk who live in Hyndland -  to get on in life and do the best for their families.

The current political jargon is that we must offer ‘equality of opportunity’. Well, yes, you can open the door, but there are those who need a bit of a hand to have the confidence to walk through it. Confidence is the key – confidence that you are important, that you are needed, that you have an active part to play within the society that you live. It’s only then that the other bit of political jargon can be realised – the famous phrase ‘rights come with responsibilities’. When you look at the relative poverty that exists in Glasgow, you cannot blame folk for feeling that actually some people have ALL the rights. What about some basics – the right to have somewhere decent to live and the right to a job that pays adequately. Then you’ll see the shoots of confidence that can be nurtured and grown. There is of course good work going on in communities, largely driven by the communities themselves, and I cannot and would not knock that, but sometimes I feel we’re suffering from ‘initiative overdrive’; that there’s a whole industry there to manage poverty rather than a simple, clear strategy to eradicate it.

I don’t represent Glasgow although I was born and raised in the city and love it dearly, so I had a chat with my friend and colleague, Sandra White MSP, who has represented Glasgow here in Holyrood since 1999. Sandra has recently called for action. In the wake of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation report she has called for the formation of a special task force for the city to ensure that resources are far more effectively channelled into dealing with poverty. As she says, in the longer term, eradicating poverty will also help communities in Glasgow remove other related problems such as drug cultures, crime and family breakdown. Like me Sandra feels that promises over decades by successive governments have not been met, and the City Council has not been able to effect real change. In Sandra’s own words as recently published:

"it is an absolute disgrace that Glasgow is still topping the charts when it comes to poverty levels.

"It is painfully obvious that the Executive's recent efforts are quite simply failing.  I am calling on Ministers to establish a specific anti poverty taskforce for Glasgow which will concentrate on identifying the real needs of these communities and act as a platform to enable greater funds to go towards eliminating poverty in the City once and for all.

"The JRF report makes it clear there is a link between poverty and other social problems in our communities, such as drug use and crime. By eradicating poverty the money could potentially be saved in the long term by not having to wipe up the related problems of crime, disorder and drug use which can result from it.  This is the kind of long term approach that is needed and one that I believe a special anti-poverty task force would be able to deliver." 

Sandra White’s call for action has been supported so far by members of five out of the seven political parties in the Parliament, along with one of the independent members, so I hope that the Executive will take note, followed by radical action.

Well, signing off now, back to Holyrood and a packed diary – normal service resumes next week.

Linda Fabiani

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