The FT Magazine has a great wee cover story on what is, in my view, the no.1 scandal in Britain today: the divergence between life expectancy in rich and poor areas. The author, Hugh Williamson, says:
I’ll give him my answer. First, the richest have the best education. There is noting equal about our comprehensive system schools. The richer the area, the better the school. The government does not recognise this massive problem, which is a direct result of giving local education bureaucracies monopoly control over education. The“
“Top of the (male) league table with 83.7 years in Kensington & Chelsea. Bottom is Glasgow, the UK’s poorest city, where on average people live to the age of 70.8. Top to bottom, a gap of almost 13 years. When I came across this difference a couple of months ago, I felt shocked… I’ve lived away from Britain for some time, but coming back I found myself asking how, in a country as wealthy as this, someone’s life can be at least 13 years longer simply because of where their home is.”
Next, welfare. Look at the areas of lowest life expectancy: they’re the areas of higher welfare dependency. Welfare dependency is a destructive lifestyle, and welfare lies behind the vast majority of hard drug addiction in Britain. Idleness is indeed a giant evil, and it has been perpetuated rather than eradicated by the disastrous way in which successive governments have implemented the welfare state. We have created the most expensive poverty in the world. Iain Duncan Smith’s reforms are, again, the fastest and surest way out of this (although James Purnell has done more than any Labour minister in bringing glasnost to the DWP’s empire of 5.2m souls).
It takes a foreigner, or a Brit returning home like Williamson, to be shocked at this. Too many of us have become conditioned into thinking there is something grimly inevitable about this appalling social apartheid in Britain: there isn’t. Or that it would take a generation to change: it wouldn’t. We won a world war in six years, we can set up a new welfare system in three. One that identifies idleness as an evil in itself, and refuses to tax away a penny the low-paid may earn. One that would allow the transfer of wealth created in the west of our cities to be shared with those in the east – and by employment, not welfare transfers. One that allows the aspirational poor (and especially single parents) to get the hell out of welfare ghettoes, rather than raise their children in drug-infested dens where they may mistake gangs for friends. The hubs of ultra-poverty in British council estates are self-reinforcing. They need to be identified as a problem, and then eradicated.
Williamson says there are greater disparities within cities, but says the data is too poor to quote. Glasgow’s data (uncovered by yours truly in Jan06) was good enough for the World Health Organisation to use in a report last August and its findings are below. Both Lenzie and Calton are areas of Glasgow.
It takes a government to reform. But it also takes people outside of government to draw attention to the multi-dimensional aspect of British poverty, to get angry about it, to debate it. So it’s great the FT has run a cover piece on social segregation. Let’s hope it returns to the theme again and again, because there simply is no more important issue in Britain today.