Pampered by poverty

I fondly remember my first state hand out.

The old clinic building in Baillieston is where you received your free orange juice.

My aunt took me there as my mother was at work.

I have no idea what age I was, but it is an early fuzzy memory.

The OJ came in a kind of Lee & Perrins shaped bottle and was thick and gooey.

This was the early 1960s.

My mother’s side of the house had come to the Lanarkshire coalfield from County Carlow during the Land War troubles in that part of Leinster.

Her grandfather was down the “pit” hand digging coal that powered furnaces and steam engines across Clydeside.

He quickly became a union organiser.

After a  particularly bitter strike he was blacklisted by the mine owners.

Murphy, they concluded, was trouble.

In his forties he was forced to earn a living as a bareknuckle fighter in order to feed his five children, including my grandfather.

It is no coincidence that the Irish gave a cutting edge to the radicalism of Red Clydeside.

They had an ethnic as well as a class consciousness.

There was a double alienation at play.

His son, my grandfather, reared me and it is from his struggles that I know that social progress is possible.

When I sat on the wooden seats at the clinic in Baillieston I was part of Britain’s finest hour.

Britain, of course, has much to be ashamed of historically.

During their period of global dominance the British committed great crimes across the world.

The British ruling class controlled a narco state and they imposed their opium law in the South China Sea.

Think of the Medellin Cartel in control of the US Navy.

Scary thought.

In the Indian sub-continent the British cultivated and manipulated ancient ethnic enmities and deepened wounds that even today haven’t healed.

When their hegemony was challenged they carried out a genocidal revenge for a decade.

Adolf would have approved.

And of course there is Ireland.

When Britain was at her imperial zenith  people in Ireland, a net food exporter, starved in the name of free trade.

A century after An Gorta Mor the National Health Service in Britain was keeping a promise that had been made during the Great War and then had been promptly broken when the Kaiser had thrown in the handtuch.

The guys in the trenches did not come back to “homes fit for heroes” not a bit of it.

As Britain withdrew from empire the citizen army who had fought in North Africa and Normandy were in political power.

When I sat waiting for my juice the British state was run by people like Denis Healy, who was the beach master at Anzio and Tony Benn who had served as an RAF pilot.

When I was born the Prime Minister, as a young man, had spent a day  lying  in the mud with a bullet in his pelvis during the Somme.

Even a Tory grandee like MacMillan realised that a basic standard of living was the hallmark of a civilised society and that the state had to be the guarantor of that social contract.

However not everyone in his party agreed with him.

The hatred of the poor has always found a home in the Tory party.

Slowly the deal with the guys who fought  in the war was, bit by bit, being reneged on.

By the time that the Blessed Margaret decided I was hopelessly addicted to milk every day it was already too late for me.

I grew up with a sense that all of the people should be taken care of and that benefits all of us.

The east end of Glasgow today is a creation of Thatcherism not some left wing folly.

When I sit in the bus as it shudders through Shettleston I am struck by the appearance of people.

There seems to be two very common types.

There are skeletal men who present as being in their frail seventies when in actual fact their birth certificate says they were born after I left school.

Then there are women who are horrifically obese.

The east end I grew up in was full of bustling grannies and wiry wee men with a swift left hook who had taken on Rommel.

What I see now is the physicality of defeat.

Health Researchers discuss “the Glasgow effect” at conferences.

A slow suicide by alcohol seems to be a major factor.

Perhaps these eminent academics should try and construct a medical explanation for historically imposed hopelessness.

I have also noticed worryingly overweight kids waddling through the streets of the east end.

In my boyhood we were all skinny little running machines.

As if it were national policy each school seemed to have been allocated one fat boy.

At my school he was nicknamed “tubby” and he played in goal.

If his boyhood BMI was compared to some of the denizens of his home place today I would wager that he would look borderline malnourished.

Of course, the clinically obese ten year old is a phenomenon across the Anglophone world.

However, when it comes to reversing the hard won increases in life expectancy Glasgow seems to be numero uno.

I will be 55 on my next birthday and that, in some areas of my home place, is reaching the end of the average allotted life span for a bloke.

The main problem facing the east end, according to Sir Tom Hunter, is an addiction to welfare benefits.

No doubt he was drawing on his own extensive experience of living on a limited income for decades without escape when he said:

“The welfare state has enabled us to become pampered, dependent people who expect what others strive and graft hard for.”

People can, as life drags on, become defeated by their situation.

The area of Glasgow that this knight of the realm slams was my professional beat in the early 1990s.

As a social worker covering a large swathe of the east end, working mainly in mental health and criminal justice, I saw a society that was slowly disintegrating.

My day job was dealing with the collateral damage of hopelessness.

When I had travelled from Baillieston to Glasgow as a kid with my grandmother I remember being afraid of the height and blackness of Beardmore’s forge.

It seemed to me to be the scariest place in the world.

Now on that site there is a shopping centre  and a psychiatric hospital.

The old smoke stack industries won’t come back to the city, nor should they.

However the economic system that made Sir Tom Hunter a billionaire also cast hundreds of thousands on the scrapheap.

What he finds distasteful and annoying is the manifestation of a social Darwinism that condemns people from the cradle to an early grave.

It wasn’t like that in my east end and it doesn’t have to be so now, but it is.

The only orange juice now available to the kids there is a product of globalisation.

Sold out of retail outlets which are owned by multinationals, made from concentrates it is mainly sugar, full of additives and colouring.

It is the sort of dangerous crap you could get addicted to.

Discover Phil’s dramatic play Rebellion