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Another SNP fail as life expectancy falls in 40 per cent of Scottish council areas

Another SNP fail as life expectancy falls in 40 per cent of Scottish council areas

by Gordon Dean
article from Monday 8, March, 2021

ACCORDING TO THE FACTS set out by the Scottish Government, residents of Scotland can expect to die on average two years earlier than citizens of Britain as a whole.

Even worse, if you live in one of the most deprived areas of Scotland you can expect to live for 13 years less than Scots in the least deprived areas. That’s if you are a man. If you are a woman then on average you will live for 10 years less. Here is the Scottish Government’s own graphic that sets out these facts:

The official report recently released by National Records Scotland sets out the unpalatable reality. While life expectancy in Scotland had increased steadily since the early 1980s it has now remained “virtually unchanged since 2012-2014”.

“The majority of Scotland’s council areas have experienced a slow-down or a stall in life expectancy growth since 2012-2014 and many areas now have decreasing life expectancy”, concluded the report, for example Inverclyde, Glasgow City, Fife, Highland, Midlothian, Moray and others.  Life expectancy is actually falling in thirteen (forty per cent) of Scotland’s 32 council areas. Here is the detail of life expectancy by council: 

Scotland has the lowest life expectancy at birth of all UK countries, two years less than the average British citizen in the case of both males and females.  Scotland has the lowest life expectancy in Western Europe, as shown in the National Records of Scotland illustration below:

Life expectancy in Scotland is worse than in a number of East European countries. For example an Albanian man can expect to live longer than a Scottish man. Life expectancy in Scotland overall is also worse than in some developing countries such as Costa Rica and Barbados, where men live longer than those in Scotland.

Of course these are much poorer countries than Scotland with many fewer resources. Albania’s per capita GDP is a mere US$4,898, whereas Costa Rica’s is US $12,238 and Barbados’s US$18,148. Scotland’s per capita GDP is by contrast a huge $42,079 – almost ten times that of Albania. With those resources we should be doing very much better. For example health care spending in Scotland per person was £2,346, whereas in Albania, Costa Rica and Barbados it was £201, £669 and £958 respectively. It is not resources that is the problem, but rather the ability of the SNP Government to manage them effectively.

While the comparative picture for Scotland as whole is bad, that for particular areas of Scotland is even worse.

As the National Records Scotland Report sets out “life expectancy was lowest in Glasgow City, where females could expect to live for 78.5 years and males for 73.6 years.” This means that Glaswegian men have a lower life expectancy than men in Uzbekistan, Egypt, Venezuela, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Belarus, Libya, Cape Verde, Bangladesh, Algeria, Mexico, Iran and Mongolia.

An important contributor to lower life expectancy in parts of Scotland like Glasgow is premature mortality, defined as deaths before the age of 65. The Understanding Glasgow project concluded that “premature mortality in Glasgow is 30 per cent higher than in Liverpool and Manchester, cities with similar socioeconomic profiles and histories of deindustrialisation.” 

Across the whole of Scotland, premature mortality is 20 per cent higher than in England and Wales. This indicates failure by the Scottish authorities to adopt an effective set of policies to address the problem.

Failure to tackle deprivation is a significant contributor to lower life expectancy. As National Records Scotland points out, “while life expectancy varies between geographical areas like council areas and health boards, the difference in life expectancy is far greater when we split Scotland by deprivation”. 

The figure below from the official report shows life expectancy at birth in SIMD (Scottish index of multiple deprivation) deciles. For males born in 2017-2019, life expectancy at birth was 69.5 years in deprivation decile 1 (the 10 per cent most deprived areas) compared with 82.8 years in decile 10 (the 10 per cent least deprived areas), a gap of 13.3 years. For females born at the same time, life expectancy was 75.6 years in decile 1 and 85.6 years in decile 10, a gap of 10.0 years.

The conclusion is stark. Get born in the wrong area and you will die at least 10 years before many other Scots, quite apart from residents of other parts of Britain, who will live even longer.

The SNP has been running Scotland since 2007, during which time Scottish life expectancy has stagnated or worsened, depending on where you live. 

Of course the SNP is not greatly motivated to tackle the problem.  In fact some of its politicians and activists see the real problem as being old people themselves – a barrier to independence.  Tommy Sheppard, SNP MP and Spokesperson said “The demographics are with us on this journey. One of the most important groups of people who rejected independence were the over-60s… But time moves on. Memories fade and people die.”  Similar comments were made recently by former SNP Deputy Leader Angus Robertson. Neil Hay, an SNP candidate in Edinburgh South, suggested that older people should not be allowed to vote at all because “umpteen poor souls in the elderly bracket can vote but barely know their own names.”

The age at which a Scottish voter is more likely to support the Union is now around 55. It is thus understandable why the SNP are not very warmly disposed towards older voters. This is not however to suggest that the SNP’s failure to address the life expectancy crisis is primarily due to active malice towards old people. Aside a lack of motivation, incompetence in administration appears to be the main cause. 

A good example of this incompetence is provided by Scottish Public Health Minister Joe FitzPatrick, who completely failed to tackle the drug death pandemic and was eventually fired because he couldn’t even remember the number of drug rehabilitation beds in Scotland, (answer: 365 almost all run by private firms or charities, with only 22 being fully funded by the Scottish Government).  Funding for drug rehabilitation has been cut by the SNP Government despite the drugs death crisis – 1,264 drug deaths last year, three and a half times the number in Britain, 15 times the number in Germany.

During their 13+ years in power the SNP has failed to tackle Scotland’s major problems, preferring to concentrate instead on a public relations approach to achieve its goal of independence. The earlier deaths that will be suffered by most Scots are unfortunate testimony to that failure. 

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Gordon Dean is a Scottish policy analyst

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