"You know when you moved here your life expectancy dropped by about fifteen years!" This was what I bluntly remarked to new Baillieston church planter Mike Davis one afternoon as we guzzled down fish suppers (that’s fish & chips to those not versed in the Glasgow lingo).
"Less time before I get to be with Jesus!" he exclaimed in response. Coming from upstate New York, the difference in estimated life expectancy between Glasgow and New York is closer to ten years but the principle remains the same - if you come from Glasgow, you are more likely to die younger than if you came from somewhere else, and especially UK cities of a similar size like Liverpool or Manchester. This is what has been dubbed 'The Glasgow Effect'.
Kirsty McKay wrote in the Guardian newspaper back in February 2021: “(Glasgow’s) male life expectancy is seven years short of the UK average and women’s is four years less. This is not isolated to areas of deprivation – Glaswegians across all social classes experience a 15% reduction in life expectancy.”
What’s also true is that if you live in the more deprived parts of the city, say a scheme like Easterhouse, you are more likely to die younger than in the affluent areas, like leafy Kelvinside.
The BBC reported in August of this year, “between 2000 and 2002, the poorest 10% of men were expected to die 12.4 years earlier than the wealthiest, but the figure grew to 15.4 years between 2017 and 2019.” Decades of work by the authorities has failed to fix these problems so, as Christians, we must point Glasgow to the only hope that can make a difference - the hope found in the Gospel.
In 1988, BBC Scotland debuted their sitcom Rab C. Nesbitt, a show which took a satirical look at some of the social problems and stereotypes surrounding life in the south side of Glasgow. In one episode, the titular character is diagnosed with the alcohol-induced disease Cirrhosis of the liver.
“We started goin’ in tae pubs together, then we went on tae secondary school.” said Rab’s best friend, Jamesie Cottar. “If you're on yer way oot with yer liver like an insole, then so are we! Cos we huv matched you pint for pint for the last 25 years!”
Yes, the drunken Glaswegian is a well-used tired trope, but it’s not without reality. Alcohol, smoking and fatty foods, all of which Rab indulges in, contribute to lower mortality. The sitcom was written in response to much media coverage of a scheme in Govan called Moorepark, not far from Ibrox Stadium where Rangers Football Club play.
The scheme was dubbed ‘Wine Alley’ by the British press due to its significant drug problem and an unemployment rate three times the national average. As a result of all of this it was later demolished and is now an industrial estate. Sadly, this problem is not a dark memory of the past but in some ways, it typifies many of the problems which still blight Glasgow.
In 2020, there were 291 drug-related deaths in the city, up 4.3% from 2019. This was a record high. Despite the scale of the problem becoming apparent in 2017 it has only gotten worse since then. That is the sad reality for many individuals and families in Glasgow.
Hope for the Hopeless
Many will try to argue that the Glasgow Effect is more do with a lack of Vitamin D or the direct result of the ‘New Towns’, like Cumbernauld, built in the 1960’s and 70’s, taking some of the middle-class inhabitants away from Glasgow and as a result skewing the statistics.
While they are no doubt factors, it is undeniable that the social problems that plague Glasgow have a more serious impact. We know, from experience, the governing authorities cannot solve these problems. In the 1960’s the city’s local authority tried to solve the socio-economic problems of their day by demolishing the slums. This is how we got the schemes and, while they substantially improved the living conditions of many, they inadvertently created a whole host of new problems.
Even today Glasgow City Council still employ the same policy - whether it be demolishing Moorepark or the Red Road flats - they continue bulldozing hoping the problems will be flattened but they still rise up.
One of the problems which became inextricably linked to the schemes was gang violence. Despite the efforts of many, including 60’s pop star Frankie Vaughan, this problem doggedly remains. In the mid-2000’s the whole criminal justice system changed their approach to knife crime and while it did make a difference the problem has not gone away.
Former Scottish Chief Medical Officer Harry Burns has argued that the root cause for our lower mortality rates is a sense of hopelessness that set in following de-industrialisation. Burns says, “Where traditional communities lose their traditional cultural anchors, they all find the same things happening - increasing mortality from alcohol, drugs, violence…Where you lose a sense of control over your life there's very little incentive to stop smoking or to stop drinking or whatever.”
Fortunately, there is a solution for Glasgow that’s been tried and tested. Many Glaswegians who were once ensnared in addiction have found freedom and transformation in Jesus Christ. Paul McLaughlin, from the town of Coatbridge just outside of Glasgow, suffered for many years from drug and alcohol addictions, but found in Christ both forgiveness and deliverance. Paul went on to help addicts through Bethany Christian Trust and become a church planter for 20Schemes. Terry McCutcheon, hailing from the Glasgow scheme of Blackhill, also suffered from a drug addiction and the only hope he found was in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Nowadays, Terry serves as the Executive Director of the charity Hope for Glasgow which is a Christian charity that seeks to help drug addicts.
Many others would share the same testimony of both redemption and freedom from sin. Garry Brotherston, of Yoker in the northwest of Glasgow, as a young man found himself involved in a street fight which resulted in him spending time in prison. There, Garry heard the Good News about God’s great mercy and he found new life in Christ, and today he serves as a minister in the Free Church of Scotland.
This is what Christ does in the lives of sinners who come to Him in repentance and faith.
In 1 Timothy, the Apostle Paul recounted how the Lord changed his life, writing:
“Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our LORD was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners-of whom I am the worst.”
1st Timothy 1:13-16
This is the only hope for Glasgow, and it is the only way Glasgow will truly flourish again – by the full gospel being unashamedly proclaimed in the schemes by those who have experienced God’s scandalous mercy and grace first-hand. That’s you and me. Will you be part of God’s redemption plan for this city?
It comes as part of our Christmas Challenge, a fundraising appeal to try and raise £/$100,000 to plant three new churches in schemes across the west of Scotland that desperately need to hear the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
 Kirsty MacKay, The Glasgow Effect: examining the city's life expectancy gap, The Guardian, 26th February 2021 (https://www.theguardian.com/)
 Glasgow life expectancy gap widens between richest and poorest, BBC News, 6th of August 2021 (https://www.bbc.co.uk/)
 As Quoted in, Why is Glasgow the UK’s sickest city? BBC News, 5th June 2014 (https://www.bbc.co.uk/)