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by Margaret Taylor
16 November 2023
Scottish inequalities have worsened over the past five years

Inequalities across poverty, health and educational attainment have worsened over the past five years | Alamy

Scottish inequalities have worsened over the past five years

Scotland continues to face significant challenges to achieving equality across the nation, with inequalities across poverty, health and educational attainment getting worse over the past five years.

In its latest Is Scotland Fairer report, which is published every five years, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) found that while there have been improvements in outcomes for young people and on the representation of minority groups, Scotland is still underperforming in several key areas.

Rates of both child and adult poverty, for example, have increased over the past decade, with ethnic minorities, Muslims and lesbian, gay and bisexual adults being disproportionately affected.

The report found that those living in the most deprived areas of Scotland continue to have lower life expectancy and there are indications of an acute crisis for men living in the most deprived areas.

On education, the report found that overall attainment has improved but there is still a large attainment gap between the most and least deprived pupils while the gap between looked-after children and all other pupils has not reduced.

That chimes with a report published today by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which warned that the upcoming findings of the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment tests is likely to show that educational gaps have persisted.

On employment, the EHRC report found that disabled people are more likely to earn a lower hourly wage than able-bodied people, while on healthcare outcomes have stagnated or declined for people with certain protected characteristics.

Ethnic minorities, religious minorities, lesbian, gay and bisexual people, and trans and non-binary people all continue to experience barriers in accessing healthcare.

Dr Lesley Sawers, Scotland commissioner and deputy chair of the EHRC, said the report gives “a comprehensive picture of where progress has been made towards a more equal country, and where action is needed to address the challenges which persist”. 

“While some improvements have been achieved since our last report in 2018, the challenges to equality in Scotland remain significant,” she said.

“In key areas such as poverty, health and the educational attainment gap, things have got worse over the last five years.

“More must be done to address these inequalities. Our report aims to inform decision-making in Scotland, with recommendations for government, public bodies and others. 

“Our analysis can help drive improvements in public services to benefit everyone, while further improvements in data collection by protected characteristics will help tackle the unfair disparities that continue to impact the lives of people across Scotland.”

The report makes a number of recommendations, including on improving data collection by protected characteristics.

It has also suggested that the Scottish Government set national equality outcomes to reduce the educational attainment gap experienced by the most deprived students, looked-after children, gypsy/traveller pupils and disabled students; improve health outcomes among people living in the most deprived areas compared with those living in the least deprived areas; reduce the incidence of poor mental health among younger people, socio-economically deprived men and trans and non-binary people; and narrow earnings and employment gaps experienced by disabled people, ethnic minorities and women.

Separately, the Scottish Government has today published a five-year Non-Binary Equality Action Plan that equalities minister Emma Roddick said is aimed at “improving equality and wellbeing for non-binary people”.

“Some actions are straightforward and immediate whilst others are long-term and systemic,” she said.

“However, they will all contribute to improving the experiences of non-binary people and begin to tackle some of the challenges that they currently face in their everyday lives.”

Vic Valentine, manager of Scottish Trans, welcomed the move saying it is positive to see the government making “public, concrete and measurable commitments to changes that will make non-binary people’s lives better”.

“I particularly welcome the commitments that will have a positive impact not only on non-binary people but on marginalised people more widely: such as those that seek to make it easier and fairer for people on benefits to participate in policy making processes and be paid for their time, and to look at how the design of public buildings does, or doesn’t, work for everyone in Scotland,” he said.

“As with any plan, the most important thing will be delivering. We look forward to working with non-binary people across Scotland to challenge the government to turn these commitments in to real change.”

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