Children’s health and wellbeing indicators for Glasgow

05 January 2012

Bruce Whyte introduces the children's indicators on Understanding Glasgow

Do we need another set of indicators to show us Glasgow’s poor position? Do we not have umpteen official indicators and targets already, whether they come from the Scottish Government’s Scotland Performs framework or from Glasgow’s Single Outcome Agreement (SOA) targets? Why a set of indicators and not just one overall index?

These, and other questions, were posed as we worked over the last year to develop a set of children’s indicators for Glasgow. The children’s indicators form part of the Glasgow Indicators Project through which progress indicators for the city have been developed. A set of overall indicators for the city, set around 12 domains, are already presented on the Understanding Glasgow website. The children’s indicators complement these, designed around seven domains – population, poverty, education, safety, behaviour, health and wellbeing.

Examples of the indicators include child poverty, educational attainment, contact with social work, involvement in anti-social behaviour, smoking habits, indicators of infant health e.g. low birthweight, etc. Where possible comparisons with other cities and neighbouring local authorities are made, differences in these measures within Glasgow are shown and trends both positive and negative are also highlighted.

Going back to those challenging questions, from its inception this project has sought to make information about different aspects of Glasgow – health, education, poverty, cultural vitality, etc – accessible and understandable. But, we have never sought to simplify the challenge of creating a coherent picture of a modern post-industrial city like Glasgow: one with wide social inequalities but wedded to consumerism; with a large public sector and strengths in higher education; a city filled with cultural assets but blighted by a range of social problems linked to poverty. 

In creating the 12 domain model of the overall indicators on Understanding Glasgow, we acknowledge that a wide range of features have to be understood, and related to each other, to enable a more integrated view of the city and its population to emerge. Simply put, a set of economic indicators on its own does not tell us all we need to know about Glasgow, nor would a set of purely health or poverty indicators suffice. But, set together, indicators from a range of traditional ‘silos’ can be a catalyst for a more integrated understanding of Glasgow's position at the beginning of the 21st century. 

These indicators are intended to stand the test of time. This doesn’t mean they won’t change or evolve as other emergent concerns arise – through the effects of climate change, continued economic problems or other as yet unimagined global trends.

Another distinction is that the Glasgow Indicators stand apart from the more official metrics of performance. Official measures are seldom seen as clearly relating to one integrated whole, can often be more about ‘inputs’ and ‘outputs’ rather than indicators of meaningful outcomes and are subject to the whims of shifts in political power and priority.

So will a set of children’s indicators in Glasgow be useful and used in the city?  We think they could be if, for example, Glasgow aspires to be a truly Child Friendly City as envisaged by UNICEF.

But will these indicators help people working in Glasgow understand children’s circumstances and lives within the city?

Why would we compare children’s circumstances in Glasgow to other places?  

Will young people in the city be interested, criticise and interact with these indicators? 

We hope so, but what do you think?


About the author

Bruce Whyte Public Health Programme Manager


Bruce co-leads the Centre’s ‘Observatory Function’ and is responsible for developing and managing a comprehensive public health information programme. His main areas of work include: managing and developing the Understanding Glasgow website and leading a programme of research on active and sustainable travel. 

He has previously undertaken a comparison of Scotland’s mortality profile within Europe and managed a programme of research into breastfeeding in a Scottish context. Bruce jointly coordinates the national PHINS (Public Health Information Network for Scotland). He is an Honorary Senior Lecturer at the University of Glasgow.

Read all articles by Bruce Whyte