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The very real cost of inequality!

Updated: Nov 27, 2020

My local community has had a few tragedies to deal with recently. Sudden death is becoming more and more regular and the losses feel so unfair.

Growing up in a scheme, we knew we were not well off but I had no real idea of the inequality faced by us until recently. I had an extended friends group. Lots of little groups, all living in the same small area, Lochend. Collectively, we are known as Lochenders or the Shamrock. This is down to the name given to area after a large amount of Irish, or of Irish descent, were moved into the new houses that were built in the 50s and 60s.

My grandfather was moved from the Southside of Edinburgh into Lochend. Jimmy Quin or Paddy to his friends, he fitted right into the Shamrock. The Young Lochend Shamrock (YLS) was going strong at this point and when I was born and raised, it’s how we all identified ourselves. YLS is still emblazoned on bus stops and the side of buildings around the area. Although, this is far less prevalent now than it was in my youth.

We had hand signs that we chucked about whenever we were overexcited and we high-jacked Jeff Beck’s “Hi Ho Silver Lining” and changed the lyrics to suit us. So if you passed the Loch Inn around the closing time you would hear, loud and proud “Hi Ho Lochend Shamrock!” Lochend Shamrock, it was our collective identity, an extended family if you like. Some would say a gang but that would be wrong. It did have some gang-like and gang-linked connotations but these were mainly left behind in the bygone eras where they belonged. Although excitable youths would fight each other under the banner of their scheme, it was usually to sort out personal differences rather than territorial or group ones.

From around 5 years old, I was out playing with the rest of the bairns from the scheme. Never allowed far from home at that age and only allowed out in the summer months. It was a taster. Twin girls, known as the Twinnies were my main sitters. The nicknames were a s simple as our intentions. They would reassure my Granny that I would be fine in their care and they would return me unscathed a wee while later. This gave my Granny, Nora the wee bit of rest she so desperately needed.

It was from about 9 years on that we would be left to play and fill our own time more. The girls were teenagers now and offered less sitting and more guidance. All the older bairns offered various forms of guidance and ignorance of this could result in swift retribution. A slap or a telling off was most common. A very happy and stable childhood ensued for most of us. Although there were times when friends were put into foster care, this was seen as an exciting time of visits across the city and “bus runs” to catch up with them and keep them informed.

While the houses underwent renovation, we utilised any means to keep us busy. A plank of 2 by 4 was fashioned into a seesaw, using only a wrought iron fence. More offcuts of wood were made into stilts that required real skill and determination to master. Mostly we just enjoyed each others company and told stories, sat about, and were pals.

Special occasions would excite us greatly. Guy Fawkes night was always a blast, no pun intended. Old wood, furniture, and any other flammable materials not secured would be piled into our bonfire. A guy was made from stuffing old clothes full of newspapers and if we were low on supplies, a wee crew would venture to Craigentinny to rifle through theirs and bring back what they could. It was usually the older boys that would go and never came back empty handed. Sometimes the regaled us with tales of their battles fought for the group cause.

Potatoes were a staple of this night and many others. Wrapped in foil, if we had any and buried deep in the firewood. Eaten whole when we could retrieve them while sitting on the ropes of the climbing frame in the Sparey. The Sparey was a triangular piece of spare ground that was surrounded on all sides by our homes. In the wider sense, it was the centre of our universe at that point. By the end of the night, stomachs would be fed and faces would be covered in soot from eating tatties and sitting too close to a bonfire. We graffitied the Sparey and climbing frame, shute and bars that we swang from. We weren’t ruining them, they were ancient. It was our means of taking ownership. Had we had access to weatherproof paints etc, we would have vastly improved the area and we would have done so gladly.

We had a playscheme which ran in the school holidays. Organised by volunteers from the community, there was a minimum charge for trips if it could be afforded. If not, no-one missed out. A weekly disco happened every Friday and the entry was a tin of whatever you could afford. Not everyone could afford a spare tin. These were the happiest of times for some of us. Even while we dealt with alcoholism, addiction issues and abuses in the families within some of our groups. Regardless of all of this, we had a good strong bond within Lochend.

Like family, we didn’t all get along and there were some that fought rather than try. We were not all close and we all had our own set of favourites. Newbies were introduced, some stayed, others didn’t. It was forever shifting and changing but was always more or less the same.

As I have said, we knew we were not well off but I am not sure any of us actually realised how disadvantaged or unequal we were and indeed are in Lochend. Lochend is not unique, it replicates the schemes across Scotland and is just an example. No worse, nor better than others.

As I now sit and read out the roll call in my head of those names that were part of my childhood, many are missing. This is normal, people move away. My issue with this is that the missing ones on our roll call are mainly dead. The lucky ones of our group has reached 50 and beyond, the majority are or would be in their 40s. Yet, so, so many have never made it.

I have the gift of understanding Adverse Childhood Experiences and this assists me in accepting the fate of some. Drug and alcohol misuse have had their share of the fatalities in Lochend and we accept that. Others though have simply been born in the wrong area. They have lived their life as best as they can and were just too disadvantaged to make it.

Lochend does not have an organic grocery shop, nor is there little call for the local shops to cut down on their single use plastics. We have no cafe where we sip a cappuccino or flat white but you can get a brilliant mug of tea from the Hub at the Ripple Project and drink that while part of the lunch club. We are happy to have the mix of the small shops we have and we certainly don’t need the gentrification that has struck Portobello. What we do need, however, is for our politicians to stop with their party politics and British Nationalism and for them all to take a long hard look at schemes like Lochend and see exactly what consecutive Westminster Governments have done and continue to do to our vulnerable.

The selling off of housing stock has left it impossible for our younger generations to carry on living within our community. Making having children at an early age the only option for housing priority has impacted heavily on the young women who could see no other way out of crowded and poor living arrangements. This is not their ambition, not what they hoped for while in school and it does not have to be heir final reality but the UK government has already written them off!

Not listening to anyone except the huge drugs conglomerates has worsened drug and alcohol dependence. The war on drugs certainly isn’t working when the dealers are the only ones in the schemes who can afford a Range Rover.

Forcing people into low paid jobs only makes them more reliant on benefits. It doesn’t give anyone a sense of pride to work 40 hours a week and still need in work welfare payments or foodbank kits to feed your bairns! Asking disabled people to prove how disabled they actually are with an intimation that they’re all having us on is an abhorrent stance but we should be used to it. For, immigrants, refugees, those with alcohol or drug misuse issues and single parents have already come in for the same treatment and we all stood back, said nothing and the bastards are in again but now attacking new targets!

Westminster has dismantled our proud industrial past, Lochend lost many of it’s former employers and hard working people have been left to languish. They don’t mind using our youngsters to fight in their illegal wars but offer them nothing on return except a sheet of charity contacts who can support them with their PTSD, mental and physical scars of conflict. Army Careers trucks often pitch up outside Scotmid or the bookies on a matchday. They know their target. Young, naive, poor and underprivileged. They are plentiful.

Westminster can allow multi-nationals to choose the amount of tax they pay while imprisoning women who claim to live alone while they have a partner who works cash in hand. The blind eye can be turned when the school tie fits. Unfortunately, we don’t have many Bullingdon Club members in Lochend. We do have some that are desperate enough to risk being locked up though.

For anyone wondering why I am laying all of this at the feet of Westminster, that is simple! No one in their right minds can expect the Scottish Government to take responsibility for any of this when they hold power over only 15% of the economic levers of our country. That would be like moving out of your mum’s house while still having your whole wages put into her bank account. Then having your mum tell you exactly what bills you were going to pay and how much you would pay to each of them. You then realise that your mum hasn’t allowed you to pay your rent. Your landlord kicks you out and you head back to your mum’s for her to tell you what an idiot you’ve been for not paying your rent and she won’t let you back in because you’re irresponsible.

The Scottish Government spends millions mitigating the poor choices of Westminster to try and save Scots from suffering further but there is only so much they can do. It is time for us to stand on our own and take 100% of the responsibility for our future. If we are the basket case they claim, this will be ideal opportunity to allow us to prove their case for them.

Like all of us when we leave home, we will have difficult times and hard decisions about our future will have to be made but we will steer our own course and have no one to blame but ourselves! If the inequality we still have is not eradicated, then we can hold our government to account and change that. One thing is for sure, we cannot let another generation grow up and lose so many of their peer groups just because of their postcode! That is a price that is too high for any of us and Lochend has already paid its’ fair share and then some! Too many have died young to sit on our arses and not want change. We have to try something.

I do not want to attend another funeral and see a family trying to cope with the grief of a loved one wrenched far too soon. No parent should have to bury their children!

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