Photo credits: Drumchapel (left): Steve Wilson; Bearsden (right): James Fraser
The consequences of running the lives of the poor are very much more serious even than Libby Purves points out (You’re poor. We’ll run your life for you. Mar 11). It’s more than patronising – it’s a matter of life or death. There are two housing estates on the outskirts of Glasgow: Drumchapel and Bearsden. In the early nineties, life expectancy in Drumchapel was 10 years less than in neighbouring Bearsden, Glasgow’s richest area. Today the Scottish Executive’s website says that the difference is 11 years. Both areas are served by the same health service and the same general hospital.
A striking difference between Drumchapel and Bearsden is that in Drumchapel you are likely to be poor and you have other people telling you what to do. You are not in control of your own destiny, you are disempowered and you die an average of 11 years younger.
But am I getting disempowerment mixed up with poverty? Well no, I don’t think I am. A study of male civil servants showed conclusively that those in the lower grade jobs (messengers, doorkeepers) had a three-fold higher mortality rate than men in the highest grade jobs.
This status-related risk factor was found to be more significant in determining death than smoking, high blood pressure, or cholesterol. None of those studied were living in poverty, and all had access to the National Health Service.
People in control, in the higher level jobs, ‘the empowered’, were healthier than the lower grade employees who had things done to them, who often had skills that were under-utilised, lacked clarity in tasks they were asked to do and had very little control or idea about what the future had in store for them.
So, for the individual, empowerment is the biggest gift that can be given: quite literally a matter of life or death. By patronising people you’re not just "making them feel lousy" you may literally be sending them to an early grave.
Background and sources
[Well they aren’t going to publish it, so I thought I’d publish it myself!]