The National:


“Male longevity in parts of east-end of Glasgow are on a par with sub-Saharan Africa" - Andrew Neil on BBC Politics, November 5 2020.


What Donald Trump would call fake news. Neil is quoting ancient and very dodgy data that he only half remembers. While Glasgow has its problems, the very latest figures show longevity in the east of Glasgow is far higher than in sub-Saharan.


Neil has made such claims before. In the Spectator magazine, shortly after Gordon Brown became PM in 2007, Neil wrote: “The social consequences of welfare dependency scar our great towns and cities. In Glasgow, where 55% of households have no earned income, male life expectancy is 69 years, lower than in the Gaza Strip, North Korea and Iran. In Calton, the poorest area of the city, male life expectancy is 54 years, which puts it on a par with sub-Saharan Africa.”

Doubtless Neil’s latest TV punditry was a poorly remembered, regurgitation of the factoid he quoted over a decade ago. However, the life expectancy figure he quoted for Calton over a decade ago was wrong even then and certainly ripped out of context.

READ MORE: WATCH: Andrew Neil in furious anti-SNP rant during BBC politics show

The original figure of "54 years", which was an estimation of male life expectancy at birth, came from a set of community health profiles published by Health Scotland in 2004. The estimate for Calton was based on deaths in the period 1998-2002. The area was defined as the postcode sector G40 2, which in 2001 had a population of only 2500 souls. This is a tiny population set and, as a result, the estimate had wide confidence limits, ie was subject to wide margins of error.

As was made clear in the original source publication the key factor contributing to the unusually low life expectancy estimate in Calton was the existence of clusters of deaths associated with the presence of hostels which looked after adults with a variety of social and health problems. These issues included drug dependency, alcoholism, homelessness and poor mental health. Special local circumstances, plus the small population sample, skewed the longevity estimate, making it bogus as a global comparator.

More recent estimates are that in 2012, male life expectancy at birth was 67.8 years in Calton and Bridgeton, while female life expectancy was estimated at 76.6 years. Today, much has changed in the area (see Glasgow Indicators Project online). The hostels mostly have been closed while the population and housing mix has changed out of recognition. Housing stock rose by nearly 2000 dwellings between 2001 and 2013, a 31% increase compared to when the original longevity data was compiled. The local population has become younger and healthier.


Neil makes the invalid comparison with Africa in order to imply the SNP Government and Glasgow Council have failed to address the problems of health and inequality in the city. This charge is not bourn out by the facts. Longevity has improved markedly in Glasgow in recent years.

The last major study on life expectancy in Glasgow was published in 2016: Glasgow: health in a changing city, by the Glasgow Centre for Population Health (GCPH). This showed that over the 20 years between 1993 and 2014, life expectancy at birth improved for both sexes - but more for men (increasing by 5.2 years) than for women (increasing by 3.7 years). By 2014, male life expectancy in the city was 73.4 years and female life expectancy, 78.7 years. Over the 13-year period between 1999 and 2012, male life expectancy in Glasgow increased across all neighbourhoods.

The latest National Records of Scotland data (2019) give life expectancy at birth in Glasgow at 73.3 years for men and 78.7 years for women, at 78.7 years, i.e. almost exactly the 2014 figure. However, it should be noted that other areas of Scotland (Dundee, South Ayrshire) have seen a decline in life expectancy. The overall Scottish figure is 77.0 years for men and 81.1 years for women, which still leaves Glasgow lagging.

The 2016 GCPH study examined the Glasgow anomaly in depth. This showed the problem was class-related. For men in the least deprived 10%, life expectancy at birth was 13.5 years higher than for men in the most deprived 10%. The report concluded that much of the explanation lay in historical policy decisions that had left the city more vulnerable to deprivation.

Chief among these was the decanting of young, skilled workers to new towns outside Glasgow, in the 1960s and 1970s. This caused Glasgow’s population to fall by fully a third, leaving behind an unbalanced population with a very high proportion of the unskilled, the elderly, and the very poorest. This was compounded by the mass de-industrialisation of Clydeside under Margaret Thatcher. 

The very latest data from the UK Office for National Statistics shows that life expectancy figures for Glasgow City, at 73.6 years for men and 78.5 for women, are broadly similar to other, older industrial conurbations in England (Liverpool, Manchester), or to new coastal zones of deprivation like Blackpool. For instance, men and women living in Liverpool have an average life expectancy of 76.2 years and 80.3 years, respectively. Again, Neil is deliberately singling out Glasgow in order to attack the SNP Government.


Average life expectancy in all sub-Saharan Africa in 2018 was 61.3 years (source: World Bank). This is considerably below the 67.5 years for males in the poorest 10% of the Glasgow population and 67.8 in Calton (GCPH figures for 2012).  Andrew Neil is therefore wrong to state that male longevity in the poorer parts of Glasgow is on a par with sub-Saharan Africa. It is not true now and was not true when he first made the comparison.


The National:

Zero. Perhaps Mr Neil is less concerned with the truth than advertising his new TV show on the right-wing GB News channel.