A vision of 2020

Many of you will have watched the BBC Disclosure programme (17th August) about Inverclyde titled “Scotland’s Covid capital”. Rather than rush to press, I have bided my time and taken time to consider my views. The old adage ‘to see ourselves as others see us’ may be true but we also have to consider, is it a fair representation? I have watched it three times now and I have mixed views.

The premise of the programme was that Inverclyde was suffering from health issues, high unemployment, high crimes figures and drug related problems before the pandemic and that because we started from such a deprived position then obviously we were always going to suffer more. Professor Jude Robinson described the preconditions and the onset of Covid19 as a perfect storm. And she asked the crucial question why Inverclyde was not identified as being significantly at risk before the Covid crisis?

And I agree. From day one I have said that the areas of highest deprivation in the UK will suffer most from the Covid19 pandemic (Greenock Telegraph 24th April 2020). Poorer health, cramped housing, comorbidity will all be factors in the spread rate and ultimately the number of deaths. If that is true for the entire UK then it stands to reason that within Inverclyde the same thing can be said. But we need the evidence to back that up. As the pandemic evolved, it took a few months before Covid figures were available for Inverclyde, initially all we had were the NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde figures and that is no use when trying to identify hot spots in Inverclyde. We cant target solutions to the areas that need them most if Inverclyde is continually treated as part of a much larger health board when it comes to such matters. We need to be as precise as possible when identifying areas that require targeted help. And to take that to its logical conclusion, the Covid infection rates must be made available by each post code. Then we will have a better picture of where the worst affected areas are and that will help us to understand why they are so badly affected and what action must be taken. Simply saying its bad Inverclyde wide isn’t good enough.

The programme makers also insinuated that locally we hadn’t done enough to address these issues and they targeted the council for particular criticism. Of course once we start the blame game fingers get pointed in every direction and solutions become thin on the ground.

The programme then went on to look at the response to the crisis from the voluntary sector.  Pre Covid we already had a vibrant voluntary sector in Inverclyde. It responded and was augmented by new organisations. That fills me with pride and despair in equal measures. The dependency on volunteers highlights areas of need that are not being fulfilled by the paid sector. And that’s poor in two ways. Why are we not funding our paid sector sufficiently to address the problems and why do the problems exist in the first place? Are we resolving problems or are we managing the decline. A perfect example is the growth in the need for mental health support. I am delighted that these organisations exist but saddened that they increasingly have to.

While the programme was keen to point out the problems, I failed to hear any solutions? They quite correctly highlighted unemployment. And while I agree that unemployment is a scourge on our society and poverty is at the heart of the matter, I think it was misleading to say “Inverclyde wasn’t always like this. It’s history is rich with heavy industry. With shipyards here employing thousands of people in its heyday.” As if those were better times. I can guarantee you that the housing was poorer, health was poorer and life expectancy was shorter. A Covid pandemic in those days would have been unstoppable.

Nostalgia can blind us to the truth and harping back to any time as the good old days is often over simplistic. But I am emphatically not denying that unemployment is absolutely a prime factor in poor health, high crime rates and addiction, it is also amongst the most difficult problems to fix. But the upside is that if we solve that one problem then it will have a knock on effect and reduce poverty and deprivation which in turn will address health issues, crime levels and addiction.

If Covid has taught us anything, and the Disclosure documentary highlighted it, it’s that we have a crying need to build a stronger more robust society that not only benefits us all on a daily basis but will be better placed to respond during times of crisis, whatever they may be.

In 2015 I described Inverclyde as an island and said we should look to solve our own problems. Industries should be aggressively lobbied to locate here. Renewable energy can be at the heart of that and the coastline can be utilised in a range of ways from shipbuilding, repair and decommissioning. We can build turbines and platforms, we can build anything we put our mind to. The river can support recreational activities for locals and tourists. Our hills are crying out for reforestation and hydro schemes. But as Covid has taught us we can’t expect a knight in shining armour to come riding in to save us. I think the most pertinent line from the programme was the last one. “When inverclyde needed help, it helped itself.”