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Carol Craig is the Centre's Chief Executive. She is author of The Scots' Crisis of Confidence, Creating Confidence: A Handbook for Professionals Working with Young People, The Tears that Made the Clyde: Well-being in Glasgow and The Great Takeover: How materialism, the media and markets now dominate our lives. Her latest book is Hiding in Plain Sight: Exploring Scotland's ill health. She is Commissioning editor for the Postcards from Scotland series. Carol blogs on confidence, well-being, inequality, every day life and some of the great challenges of our time. The views she expresses are her own unless she specifically states that they reflect the Centre's thinking.

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Posted 20/02/2010 | 1 Comment

When we set up the Centre  in 2004 we were based in the Glasgow Centre for Population Health which had been established effectively to find the cause of Glasgow's ill health. However, space was limited and within a year we moved out to our own, bigger premises. Unfortunately that meant that the two organisations were less involved in each other's agendas. At this stage the Centre had project funding from the Scottish Government and they were particularly keen for us to focus our attention on the confidence and well-being of youngsters. This is an important topic and so I had no problem with this but I was aware that there were other important issues that we could fruitfully be engaged in. The Board Chair of the Centre, Fred Shedden, then involved in Glasgow Housing Association, was also keen that we turn our attention to something on Glasgow's particular social and health problems.

However, the main catalyst for The Tears that Made the Clyde – my new book on Glasgow's well-being – was reading Professor Richard Wilkinson's book The Impact of Inequality. Wilkinson is an epidemiologist who has done a huge amount of work on the negative health and social effects of inequality. Everything that Wilkinson argues accompanies pronounced income inequality – violence, gangs, macho culture, domestic violence, drinking, poor health, racism (aka sectarianism) – is precisely the problems facing Glasgow. Since there is no evidence that contemporary Glasgow is any more unequal than other cities with better social and health outcomes what I wanted to do was look at Glasgow's past to see if historically Glasgow had a major problem with inequality which is now stamped on the culture.

While writing the book Wilkinson's work went from being a topic of some interest to academics to a central part of contemporary political debate. The reason is this: Wilkinson then co-authored a more popular book on these themes with a colleague called Kate Pickett. This book, called The Spirit Level, has now had a huge amount of media attention and is being quoted on political platforms and newspaper columns up and down the land. In Scotland Alex Neil, the housing and regeneration minister, is a big fan of the book and is fond of citing it in his speeches.

Another  factor which is important in understanding my analysis of Glasgow's problems is that when reading Glasgow history or autobiographies or hearing first hand accounts from folk who grew up in the city I was continually struck by how poor relationships were between men and women. Quite simply there was a lot of male selfishness in the form of drinking wages which should have been spent on the family and a great deal of domestic violence. People often portray Glasgow as a matriarchal society. My reading is different: women were seen to rule the roost because the man wasn't interested in the family - he had flown the coop and was having a better time with his mates drinking, betting or watching football. Since women were less likely to work in Glasgow than other places in the UK and since they also objectively lived in worse conditions than her working class sisters in other cities this dynamic was corrosive. Change was inevitable and when it came it was bound to be dramatic.

Chris Harvie, a historian and current SNP MSP, reviewed the nature of Scotland's hard, working class culture in the period 1922-1964 and focussed on how men spent time drinking in miserable pubs. He wrote:

If the result was a certain social inadequacy, then it would have been much worse but for the women. They created a home-life and a sort of community-politics, even if only through policing by gossip. They stayed away from drink and crime, saved, organized their families, read. They were a coiled spring.

For a variety of reasons that spring was sprung, partly as a result of the growing independence of women and the fact that they were less likely to martyr themselves for their families. Profound socio-economic changes, including male unemployment, also played their part. None of this was unique to Glasgow but the uncoiling of the spring has had a particularly damaging effect in a city where living a healthy life has always proved difficult.

So another major aspect of my analysis of Glasgow's problems concerns family breakdown. Over 46 per cent of families with dependent children in Glasgow are lone parent. That's one of the highest figures in the world. As around 90 per cent of them include the mother, not the father, that's a lot of men detached from family life. If we also look at the marital status figures for Greater Glasgow we see that almost 48 per cent (as opposed to 43 per cent in Scotland and 30 per cent in England and Wales) are single or never married.

Many of these single folk could be cohabiting but cohabitation is much less stable than marriage and so these figures suggest  much more instability and relationship churn in Glasgow than in England and Wales. International research also suggests that the outcomes for children from single parents – even middle class single parents – is generally less positive than it is for children from two parent families.

I cohabited with my partner for almost thirty years (before we finally decided to get married for legalistic reasons). During that time we raised our two sons. I cohabited because in the days when I would have got married I was too independent minded a young woman to accept the legal status on offer to married women. For example, in those days women's earnings were considered part of their husband's. As I had no desire to change my name and didn't like wearing rings I decided not to bother getting married. Many of my friends did likewise. We have all stayed with our partners – managing to tough out  difficult patches and provide stability for our children.

However, reading a lot of the research on well-being and on relationships I have realised that we are not typical. Cohabitation is not usually as stable or as beneficial as marriage. Indeed longitudinal research in the UK shows that the most beneficial thing for a  man's physical and psychological health, more important than work  and income, is being married. Given that health for men in poor areas of Glasgow is worse than many other places should we not be paying attention to the nature and quality of relationships in the city? Women also benefit but not so much as men.

Marriage and family life have unfortunately come to be seen as moralistic or right-wing arguments. They are not. One of the things which I hope my book manages to do is wrest these topics from arguments about morality or sin and put it where it belongs – in discussions about well-being. As individuals we need committed relationships to flourish: relationships we can depend on. To give them the best start in life children require the resources provided by two parents. Of course, this is a complex issue and it is also true that women and children are better off without abusive men. But this leads us to see that we have a huge need in this city to invest in services to work with violent men and to provide relationship counselling.

Quite simply the importance of family life, marriage, committed relationships, love, tenderness … isn't on Glasgow or Scotland's radar and yet it needs to to be if we are to work out how to genuinely help Glasgow flourish. 

Comment By Comment
Joined: 30/03/2010

Comment Posted: 30/03/2010 17:10
As a newcomer to the west of Scotland and as a lecturer in social science, I have been very interested in Carol's take on Glasgow's 'problems'. It was refreshing to see the first steps taken in moving from the simple correlations of deprivation, (in all its forms),with poor health, education etc etc... and towards some early comments on causality.
The historically and socially specific growth of Glasgow as a context for understanding todays problems was particularly thought provoking element of the book.
I was left with some optimism in terms of seeing Glasgow 'flourish', but was driven back time and time again to the necessity to acknowledge the damaging role that social structures play in creating inequality and the subsequent 'ills' that accompany it. I can't help but feel that no matter how much work I did on being 'happy' 'confident' and 'optimistic', the individual project would be thwarted by the very economic and political structures that developed Glasgow's past, and continue to effect our daily lives today - Glasgow wasn't 'made', it is a city in a constant process of 'making, breaking, and remaking'. Perhaps the 'old battles' still have to be joined too - then Glasgow may 'flourish'.

NB Media coverage of the recent tragedy at the Red Road flats certainly exposed a significant example of both 'bonding' and 'bridging' in the community there? - Discuss!
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