Sunday, 31 August 2008

Chances and choices

Where you live should not decide
Whether you live or whether you die”
U2 – Crumbs from your table

Last week the World Health Organisation published a report on life expectancy and some of the factors that influence it. The report was headline news here because of one startling statistic that emerged – male life expectancy in Calton, Glasgow is a mere 54 years; eight miles away in Lenzie it is 82!! A difference of 28 years in 8 miles.

Obviously this degree of divergence is appalling and begs many questions.

The WHO report states:
“The toxic combination of bad policies, economics, and politics is, in large measure, responsible for the fact that a majority of people in the world do not enjoy the good health that is biologically possible… Social injustice is killing people on a grand scale.”

The issue of Calton/Lenzie has sparked a predictable and lamentable round of political point-scoring. The reality is that significant investment has been made in places like Calton, but change on the scale that is required is long-term. It’s easy to get all high and mighty about these kind of situations. But the reality is that we live our comfortable lives in blissful ignorance of the situation right on our doorstep. I don’t know what the comparative life expectancy is for communities in and around Perth, but I know that poverty and hopelessness exists alongside middle-class affluence and consumption.

So before I criticise those responsible for social policy in Calton, I need to take a long, hard look at myself first.

On the day that the WHO report was published, there was another story in the headlines here. The Duke of Sutherland needs to raise some cash, so he’s planning to sell some paintings from his collection. The thing is, he’s been kind enough to lend them to the National Galleries of Scotland, who don’t want to lose them. So the Duke is prepared to sell two Titians for the bargain price of £50 million each.

To be honest Titian isn’t my ‘cup of tea’ anyway. But I’m horrified that the Scottish Government is planning to make a significant contribution (about £10 million) towards buying these paintings. How can this be justified?

My solution would be to let the Duke sell his paintings at market value (£150 million each!), then he can make a donation of say £50 million towards the development of arts related projects in Calton and other deprived areas of Scotland to provide some hope and stimulation for those whose life expectancy is somewhat less than the typical gallery viewer who would see the Titians anyway. At the very least, the government could divert their, actually, our £10 million to what in my view is a better cause.

1 comment:

His Girl Friday said...

Hi ER,

Good point. I wonder if things will ever be balanced. Not that I'm for just throwing money at a problem; it needs to be used with some discernment at what would be most effective at helping those communities.
Sure, a few pretty pictures in a museum are nice, but hardly worth letting people continuing to spiral downwards when there could be intervention. And then there's always the question of should the Sutherlands give back a little as well. Just my twa pence.