Inside the 'devastating effect' of austerity measures on a Scottish city (2024)

The digits flash up on a screen, and everyone looks down at their bingo cards.

"Number 10, Rishi Sunak's den," announces Karen Lochrie, who's calling the game.

"Boo, get him out," the crowd choruses in unison.

When Karen says Number 10, she's talking about 10 Downing Street, the official London residence of British prime ministers. Rishi Sunak is the man who's in there at the moment.

Although if the sentiments in this room are anything to go by, he won't be for much longer.

This game of bingo, being run by a senior citizen's charity in Glasgow, feels a long way away from the United Kingdom's seat of power.

Inside the 'devastating effect' of austerity measures on a Scottish city (1)

Inside the 'devastating effect' of austerity measures on a Scottish city (2)

Sunak's Conservative Party — known colloquially as the Tories — has been in government since 2010. Here in Scotland's largest city, however, it's deeply unpopular.

Fourteen years of austerity measures and cuts to services haven't just left people feeling forgotten in working-class Glasgow.

Research has outlined the policies mean some people are dying younger.

"I'm not making this up. The evidence about the link between austerity measures and health is very, very clear," says Dr David Walsh, a senior lecturer in health inequalities at the University of Glasgow.

"They all tell the same tale that in different ways, different policy measures have impacted negatively on health, and they've affected people in horrible ways."

For decades, the human life expectancy in Glasgow has been lower than in other similar cities in the UK and abroad.

While several factors are behind that, they have a common thread: poverty.

According to data from the Glasgow Centre for Population Health, 32 per cent of children in the city live in poverty. UK parliament stats show it's as high as 47 per cent in some areas.

But the issues run deeper than just children.

Inside the 'devastating effect' of austerity measures on a Scottish city (3)

Inside the 'devastating effect' of austerity measures on a Scottish city (4)

Shaun Leinster, from the charity Glasgow's Golden Generation, which supports the city's senior citizens, has seen things deteriorating.

"Throughout the winter a lot of our service users were telling us that they're choosing between heating their house or eating," he says.

"It feels like charities are playing a big part in stepping up and sort of bridging that gap, that gap between what council services and the government services are offering."

Gracie McKafferty, aged 87, has already made it well past the life-expectancy average in Glasgow of 78. For context, women in Australia are expected to live to 85.

She's among those at the bingo game and has lived in the city for most of her life.

"I've got five boys and a lassie, and they're all struggling. I've always struggled," she says.

"I'm lucky. They've reached that age where they're on their own. I feel sorry for the people who are bringing their kids up now."

Inside the 'devastating effect' of austerity measures on a Scottish city (5)

Government wipe-out on cards

The result of the UK's general election, set to take place next week, looks a foregone conclusion.

Opinion polls show the Tories are facing annihilation, with the opposition Labour Party expected to gain a substantial majority and win at least 470 of the country's 650 lower house seats.

Scotland and its 59 constituencies are seen as critical to Labour's path to victory.

Right now, it holds just two seats there. It's tipped to make big gains, but not just at the expense of the Conservatives, which hold seven seats in Scotland.

The centre-left Scottish National Party (SNP) has towered over politics in the country for a decade, but recent leadership changes, infighting and corruption scandals have dented its popularity.

It holds 43 seats but is expected to lose many of them when Brits head to the polls on July 4.

Inside the 'devastating effect' of austerity measures on a Scottish city (6)

Inside the 'devastating effect' of austerity measures on a Scottish city (7)

Margaret Carlisle, 83, has only ever voted for one party in her life. This time, she's contemplating a change.

"There are a few things that are worrying me at the moment," she says. "I haven't made up my mind yet. There are some doubts in my mind."

Like many people in the UK, the rising cost of living will be a big part of her decision.

"If you're on your pension it's quite hard. You just have to shop around and get the cheapest items. You just have to be very careful," she says.

"Just generally the electrics and the gas, everything is all going up, it doesn't matter what it is."

That and the country's struggling public health system are consistently rated as the most important issues for voters.

Inside the 'devastating effect' of austerity measures on a Scottish city (8)

Inside the 'devastating effect' of austerity measures on a Scottish city (9)

The SNP currently holds all of Glasgow's seven seats in the UK parliament.

Margaret, who lives in sheltered accommodation for over 60s on Glasgow's outskirts, says the party's "disappointing" corruption scandals — which include allegations the husband of a former leader embezzled money — will likely mean people are looking for alternatives.

Sita Riley, a medical student, agrees — although she's still making up her mind about who to back.

"I think Scotland's quite complicated because the SNP has been very popular recently," she says. "But I don't know how people's minds will have changed, given the events of the last year or so.

"But I'll be doing anything to vote the Conservatives out."

Inside the 'devastating effect' of austerity measures on a Scottish city (10)

'It's more than disappointing. It's horrific'

Life expectancy is an important metric used to indicate the overall health of a population.

While the problem is particularly pronounced in Glasgow, it's stalling right around the UK.

"The main drivers of these horrible changes have been UK government austerity measures implemented from 2010 onwards, but still with us today, which have had a devastating effect on the health of the poorest and the most vulnerable in society," Dr Walsh says.

Since 2010, the Conservatives have embarked on deep spending cuts designed to control budget deficits.

The fiscal policy has meant slashing funding for health, education and welfare services. Hundreds of thousands of public servants have been laid off.

Glasgow, which already had problems with poverty before the Tories were voted in, was particularly vulnerable.

Inside the 'devastating effect' of austerity measures on a Scottish city (11)

Inside the 'devastating effect' of austerity measures on a Scottish city (12)

Dr Walsh's research has revealed mortality levels for all ages remain 12 per cent higher in Glasgow when compared to the English cities of Manchester and Liverpool, both less than 4 hours' drive away.

Among Glaswegian men, premature mortality — that is, those who die under the age of 65 — is 25 per cent higher.

"There are all sorts of different bad decisions made by different governments, which in effect meant that people in Glasgow were living in much worse conditions than in these other comparable cities, and that has a negative impact on their health," says Dr Walsh.

The academic is sceptical a change of governments in the UK will make significant improvements in health.

"It's more than disappointing. It's horrific. I've been looking at this kind of data for a long, long time … the evidence is there from different studies from amongst across different countries about the devastating impact that these policies have had," he says.

"And it's time that politicians, be that the current government or a future government, understand the evidence and act on it, because I think it's genuinely their moral duty."

Inside the 'devastating effect' of austerity measures on a Scottish city (13)

Inside the 'devastating effect' of austerity measures on a Scottish city (14)

Margaret is also not convinced.

"I really don't know what difference the new government would make," she says. "I really don't know. I would hope that it would make a difference."

Back in the bingo hall, the last game has just finished, and Gracie — who had voted Labour until the 1980s but has backed the SNP since then — is ready to talk politics.

"Labour and the Conservatives, they're just the same now, there's not much difference," she says. "I don't trust Labour. I don't have any confidence in them at all.

"I'm hoping the SNP get through in Scotland, and I think there'll be a lot of people doing the same."

Another woman at the table interjects with a reality check: "They'll nae get through this time."

"No," says Gracie, a little disheartened. "But we'll wait and see, because anything can happen. A miracle could happen."

While not everyone is excited about the prospect of a Labour government, opinion polls are showing a red wave so large it could swamp British politics for a decade or more.

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