There is a correlation between disadvantage and poor health, and the levels of poverty and deprivation in some parts of our country mean that Scotland leads the league table on a wide range of ‘lifestyle’ diseases.
In West Dunbartonshire, levels of deprivation remain high, with most of the local ‘datazones’ scoring within the most deprived deciles in the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation 2012. Consequently, our health outcomes are generally below the Scottish average.
The social determinants of health are complex and multi-faceted, but it is widely recognised that exercise and physical activity play a major part in health creation. Just ask the man who held the most senior role in healthcare in Scotland for almost a decade, Sir Harry Burns, who cites physical activity as being “…the single most important thing you can do for your health.”
In 2010, Professor Sir Michael Marmot published a report on his review of health inequalities in England, and the results were highly lauded across the UK by public health practitioners and policy makers alike. One of his key recommendations was for a shift in Government health policy from a focus on some sections of society, to what he termed ‘proportionate universalism’ – where policy is designed to help everyone in society, but with an increased scale and intensity for those in greatest need.
So with West Dunbartonshire being disproportionately represented in the deprivation scales, you’d expect that the Council would be making every effort to ensure that everyone in the community is given fair access to the resources necessary to engage in physical activity – and with a particular focus on those of us in greatest need. Instead,what we see is our Council proposing to restrict access to one of the very few free sports resources in Dumbarton; taking something that is free and accessible to all, and limiting its accessibility to only some sections of society, namely school-children and those who can afford to pay.
West Dunbartonshire Council is, quite simply, widening the opportunity gap and making it even harder for the most financially excluded people in our community to have fair access to facilities. It’s Robin Hood in reverse.
This retrograde proposal to commercialise a part of one of our parks is being broadcast by Council spokespeople (elected and unelected) all over social and traditional media using the language of propaganda that West Dunbartonshire Council has become so adept at spouting. They say that the facility will bring huge benefits for the whole of Dumbarton, which is a deliberately misleading statement. They are hoping to blind the electorate with promises of large financial investments, and all the while keeping their fingers crossed that nobody scrutinises the small print. And they’d be forgiven for thinking that they’ll get away with it, because our elected officials on the IRED Committee set the standard for scrutiny failure when they green-lighted this proposal without a single reference to equity of access.
So I thought I’d help these hard-working local politicians out by reminding them of some of their own organisational and Party positions on equality, just in case they’ve forgotten what they stand for.
Firstly, for the Labour Councillors who hold the majority on the IRED Committee and who are trumpeting this proposal as an excellent example of Labour leadership – the Labour Party manifesto has this to say :
“We are the Party of equality. We believe that no person should suffer…a lack of opportunity. The decisions we take in government will always be taken with this in mind. The policies in our manifesto will remove the barriers that stand in the way of greater equality.”
It goes on to make the following declarations about health :
“A greater emphasis on prevention and public health is essential, not just to improve outcomes and tackle inequalities, but to ensure the NHS remains sustainable… We will set a new national ambition to improve the uptake of physical activity…”
Okay, so that doesn’t sound very well aligned with a local decision to restrict fair access to free sports and exercise facilities. Perhaps the WDC Labour cohort are dancing to their own tune (probably the Circus theme tune, as mentioned previously.) But let’s not forget those SNP Councillors on the IRED Committee who waved through this proposal without any question. The SNP manifesto has a bold overarching aim, which is :
“It’s time to put fairness and equality back at the heart of government.”
Fairness and equality. Or, the opposite of what is being proposed here in West Dunbartonshire. Nicola Sturgeon, in the run up to taking on the leadership of SNP, made a promise to focus on inequalities in Scotland, and to strive to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor. Too bad that the West Dunbartonshire SNP group seems quite happy to increase the gap here on our own doorstep.
We know that our Council has a stated aim to improve health and reduce health inequalities through the work of the West Dunbartonshire Community Health and Care Partnership. We also know that ‘physical activity’ is one of their key programmes of work – they tell us so here. So, where does this proposal, which clearly seems to be misaligned with both the organisational and Party objectives of the decision-makers involved, fit in? Could it be all about the Benjamins? Do Council and Party principles go out of the window when there’s an opportunity to screw a bit of cash out of the electorate?
Well, not according to our Council Leader, Martin Rooney, who waxed lyrical on his Council’s commitment to tackling structural inequality just a few months ago, citing the need for “…a fairer share of available resources.”
But now, just a short while after, Councillor Rooney seems to have had a change of heart. He now feels that it is acceptable to exclude poor people from using municipal sports facilities, and that it is in fact “tremendous” to do so.
So please, if you happen to run into our Council Leader, do take a minute to ask him about which of his published standpoints he is choosing to align with on that given day. And perhaps also remind him, in case he’s somehow forgotten, that all voters are equal, and that we are 18 months closer to the next round of local elections than the last time he was forced to re-think a proposal restricting access to Posties Park.