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Scottish Social Attitudes Survey 2010: Attitudes to Discrimination and Positive Action

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6 PROMOTING EQUALITY AND POSITIVE ACTION

Introduction

6.1 So far, this report has explored whether people believe prejudice is acceptable and the extent to which they hold views towards specific groups which may be described as discriminatory. This chapter now turns to attitudes to positive action. The Commission define 'positive action' as:

'measures that are designed to counteract the effects of past discrimination and to help abolish stereotyping.'

6.2 Arguments for positive action are most commonly applied to employment settings. In this context, positive action consists of action to encourage particular groups of people who are under-represented in a workplace to take advantage of training, or to apply for employment in the first place. [44]

6.3 Those opposed to positive action typically argue that it confers unfair advantage on the groups it targets. Such action, it is argued, is not only unfair on those who do not share these characteristics (white males, for example), it may also be damaging for those who apparently benefit from it, since their subsequent career success may be attributed by others to these 'unfair advantages' rather than their own merits. Those who support positive action respond by claiming that treating people differently is justified as a result of historical and current injustices suffered by particular groups. Moreover, they argue that greater equality and diversity in particular areas is unlikely to be achieved, at least in the short term, without some form of positive action. Whether or not they are aware of these arguments, it seems likely that public responses to different types of positive action will reflect at least some of these considerations.

6.4 This chapter explores public reactions to a range of scenarios involving some kind of positive action by the public and private sector, to try and improve outcomes for particular groups. It also explores views of attempts to promote equal opportunities in general, and of other measures that attempt to promote greater equality for particular groups. Questions included in SSA 2010 covered targeted action:

  • To promote accessibility of services for disabled people and people who do not speak English as their first language
  • To help people with particular characteristics find employment through state funded, targeted employment support services
  • To help people with particular characteristics obtain employment or promotion through companies providing additional training or improved chances of being selected for interview.

6.5 In considering people's responses to these scenarios we consider not only how views vary depending on the group and scenario in question, but the extent to which people's views on positive actions to assist these groups diverge from or mirror discriminatory views against them, as explored in Chapters Three and Four. It is important to bear in mind, however, that opposition to positive action may or may not be related to prejudice against a particular group. While some people may reject specific types of positive action because they view particular groups as 'undeserving', based on prejudiced views about this group, others may oppose positive action on entirely different grounds. [45]

Equal opportunities

6.6 SSA 2010 asked people to say whether they thought attempts in Scotland to promote equal opportunities had gone too far or not gone far enough in relation to women, black people and Asians, and gay men and lesbians. [46] As shown in Figure 6.1, relatively few people (only around 1 in 20) felt that attempts to promote equal opportunities for women had gone too far, while 4 in 10 felt they had not gone far enough. People were far more likely to say that attempts to promote equal opportunities for black and Asian people (23%) and for gay men and lesbians (20%) had gone too far. However, just as many people (26% for black and Asian people and 22% for gay men and lesbians) thought equal opportunities for these two groups had not gone far enough.

Figure 6.1 Attitudes to attempts to promote equal opportunities [47]

Figure 6.1 Attitudes to attempts to promote equal opportunities

Sample size: 1,495 (all respondents)

6.7 In their discussion of the (broadly similar) findings from the 2006 SSA survey, Bromley et al (2007) noted that more people believed attempts to promote equal opportunities for black and Asian people have gone too far than expressed 'overt' prejudice towards ethnic minority groups on the measures discussed in Chapters Three and Four. The same pattern is apparent in 2010 - while just 9% said they would be unhappy if a relative married someone who is black or Asian and just 6% felt they would be unsuitable as a primary school teacher, almost a quarter thought attempts to promote equality for this group have gone too far.

6.8 Bromley et al (2007) suggest that these findings indicate that some people who are unwilling to express 'overtly' discriminatory views towards ethnic minority groups may nonetheless hold views that are covertly discriminatory. Alternatively, although few people hold prejudiced views towards individual black and Asian people, perhaps more people hold discriminatory views towards people from ethnic minorities as a group, particularly where questions of resources come into play - an issue we return to below. A third possibility is that some people are simply unaware of the extent of the inequalities still experienced by many black and Asian people in Britain, and therefore feel that current attempts to promote equality for this group are unnecessary.

6.9 In terms of the sections of society most likely to feel that attempts to promote equality for black and Asian people and for gay men and lesbians have gone too far, findings follow the same broad patterns seen in Chapters Three and Four (for full details of the figures discussed in this paragraph, see Annex A, Table A.6.1).

  • Those with fewer educational qualifications were more likely to think this [48] as were those on lower incomes [49].
  • Attitudes to attempts to promote equality for black and Asian people were also divided along class lines. Employers, managers and professionals and those in intermediate occupations were less likely than those in lower supervisory, technical or routine occupations to feel attempts to promote equality have gone too far.
  • In relation to gay men and lesbians, men and older people were more likely to think attempts to promote equal opportunities have gone too far (23% of men compared with 17% of women, and 40% of those aged 65 and over compared with just 3% of those aged 18-24).
  • Those who knew someone who is gay or lesbian were less likely to feel attempts to promote equal opportunities for this group had gone too far (16% compared with 29% of those who do not know anyone who is gay). [50]

Accessibility of services and information

6.10 One way of promoting equality is to ensure that the services that we all use are equally accessible to all kinds of people. This might take the form of removing physical barriers - for example, ensuring that offices, banks and shops are wheelchair accessible. Or it might involve removing barriers relating to knowledge and information about services - for example, by providing translations for those for whom English is not their first language.

6.11 People in Scotland appear strongly committed to the principle of ensuring equal access for disabled people. A clear majority (76%) agreed that shops and banks should take action to reduce barriers to disabled people using their services, even if this might result in higher prices for customers (Table 6.1). An even bigger proportion (93%) said that providing information about public services in easy read formats, designed to be more easily understood by people with learning disabilities, was a good use of public money (Figure 6.2).

Table 6.1 Agree/disagree 'Shops and banks should be forced to make themselves easier for disabled people to use, even if this leads to higher prices' (column %)

%
Agree strongly23
Agree53
Neither agree nor disagree15
Disagree6
Disagree strongly1
Can't choose1
(Not answered)1
Sample size1366

Base: All respondents who completed a self-completion questionnaire

6.12 However, attitudes to providing translations of information about public services for people who do not understand English well were more divided. While almost half (47%) agreed that providing translations was a good use of public money, a third (34%) thought it was a bad use of state funding, and a further 1 in 5 were undecided (Figure 6.2).

Figure 6.2 Attitudes to providing information about public services in alternative formats [51]

Figure 6.2 Attitudes to providing information about public services in alternative formats

Sample size: 1,495 (all respondents)

6.13 There were relatively few significant demographic differences in the kinds of people who were most and least likely to view providing translations of information about public services as a bad use of government money (Table 6.2). Men were a little more likely to think this than women (37% compared with 30%), as were people in lower supervisory and technical occupations and small employers compared with those in other socio-economic groups. [52]

6.14 Much bigger differences in attitudes to providing translations were apparent by people's general attitude to prejudice. Forty seven per cent of those who thought there was sometimes good reason for prejudice felt that providing translations of information about public services was a bad use of government money compared with 27% among those who thought Scotland should do everything it can to get rid of all forms of prejudice. Even more strikingly, 58% of those who agreed strongly that Scotland would start to lose its identity if more black and Asian people moved here felt providing information in translation was a bad use of government money, compared with just 16% of those who disagreed strongly with this statement. While it is not necessarily the case that immigrants will require translations of information, these findings indicate that views about spending state resources on providing information to non-English speakers are strongly related to views about the cultural impact of immigration in general. Although this is perhaps unsurprising, it is a reminder of the strong relationship people perceive between language and culture. This relationship may in turn help explain why some people are resistant to investing resources in supporting people who speak languages not traditionally associated with a particular country and its culture.

Table 6.2 Attitudes to using government money to provide information about public services in other languages for people who do not understand English well, by various factors (row %)

Very good/good useNeither good nor bad useBad/very bad useSample size
All4719341495
Gender
Men461637662
Women482230833
Socio-economic class
Employers, managers and professionals531631519
Intermediate occupations422532160
Small employers and own account workers382041144
Lower supervisory and technical occupations391547166
Semi-routine and routine occupations472132459
General attitudes to prejudice
Scotland should do everything it can to get rid of all kinds of prejudice531927946
Sometimes there is a good reason for people to be prejudiced351847451
Scotland would start to lose its identity if more black and Asian people move here?
Agree strongly281358231
Agree382239481
Neither482526327
Disagree601524387
Disagree strongly72121658

Targeted funding for employment support

6.15 The Commission's recent report, 'How fair is Britain?' ( EHRC, 2010) showed that some groups of people continue to be under-represented in the UK labour market and face particular barriers to accessing and maintaining employment. For example, in Britain as a whole:

  • 45% of disabled people in their early 20s are not in employment, education or training ( NEET)
  • Only 23% of people with depression are in employment
  • Only 1 in 4 Bangladeshi and Pakistani women work
  • Muslim people have the lowest rate of employment of any religious group
  • Women hold just 1 in 3 managerial jobs in Britain
  • Lesbian, gay and bisexual people are twice as likely to report experiencing unfair treatment, discrimination, bullying or harassment at work compared with other employees.

6.16 A number of organisations offer targeted employment support to specific groups to try and overcome barriers that may not always be adequately addressed by more generic employment services. In SSA 2010, this idea was introduced to respondents as follows:

Some organisations focus on helping particular groups of people find work, for example by helping them develop interview skills and building their confidence.

6.17 Respondents were then asked to say whether in general they thought that giving money to organisations that focus on helping a particular group find work is a good or a bad use of government money, on a five point scale ranging from 'very good use' to 'very bad use'. This question was asked in relation to six different groups of people:

  • Black and Asian people
  • People over 50
  • Muslims
  • People who experience depression from time to time
  • Gypsy/Travellers, and
  • Gay men and lesbians.

6.18 As Table 6.3 shows, support for targeting this kind of support was much greater in respect of some groups than others. People were least likely to feel that giving money to organisations that support Gypsy/Travellers to find work was a good use of public money - just 31% said this. Slightly more, but still well under half, said the same in relation to targeted employment support for gay men and lesbians (38%), Muslims (39%) and black and Asian people (43%). In contrast, three quarters of people felt that giving money to organisations that support people aged over 50 (75%) or people who experience depression from time to time (74%) to find work was a good use of public money.

Table 6.3 Views on giving money to organisations that help particular groups find work (row %) [53]

Very good/ good use of govt moneyNeither good nor bad useBad/very bad use of govt moneySample size
Gypsy/Travellers%3125421495
Gay men and lesbians%3830301495
Muslims%3928321495
Black and Asian people%4328281495
People who experience depression from time to time%741871495
People over 50%751691495

6.19 As noted earlier, there are potentially multiple reasons for people opposing targeting of resources to support particular groups. It may reflect prejudice against a particular group or it may simply be an indication that people cannot see why a particular group would need additional help in a particular sphere. However, the fact that the different groups above do attract very different responses does at least suggest that people do make distinctions. It is not simply the case that people either support this kind of targeted action or not.

6.20 If we compare responses to these questions with responses to the more overtly discriminatory questions discussed in Chapters Three and Four, we find that attitudes to funding targeted employment support do not follow the same patterns (Figure 6.3). Views are most similar in relation to Gypsy Travellers - this is the group people are most likely to object to funding targeted employment support for. They are also one of the groups people would be least happy about marrying into their family circle and are the group most likely to be viewed as unsuitable as a primary teacher. In contrast, while few people would be unhappy about a black or Asian person marrying into their family circle (9%), or feel they would be unsuitable as primary school teacher (6%), a much higher proportion (28%) oppose the idea of funding employment support for black and Asian people. As discussed above, this may be an indication of 'covert' discrimination against black and Asian people or it may reflect a belief that it is either inappropriate or unnecessary to target employment support on the basis of ethnicity.

6.21 With respect to people who experience depression, the pattern observed for black and Asian people is reversed. Four in ten (41%) people think people who experience depression would be unsuitable as a primary teacher, while 1 in 5 would be unhappy about them marrying a family member, but only 7% would be opposed to the government funding targeted employment support to this group. Perhaps depression attracts sympathy - and therefore support for targeted services to overcome barriers - while at the same time some people are concerned about people with depression taking on demanding or sensitive employment roles, like teaching. In any case, what is clear from these figures is that rejecting overtly discriminatory attitudes towards a particular group does not necessarily mean people will support targeting public funding on help for that group. Conversely, the existence of high levels of apparently discriminatory attitudes in the context of relationships or a specific employment scenario does not necessarily mean that people will reject the idea of targeting support on a particular group.

Figure 6.3 Discriminatory attitudes and attitudes to positive action targeting different groups (%)

Figure 6.3 Discriminatory attitudes and attitudes to positive action targeting different groups

Sample size: questions on use of government money and marriage long-term relationship = 1,495 (all respondents); questions on suitability as primary school teacher = 1,366 (all respondents who completed a self-completion questionnaire).

6.22 Tables 6.3 to 6.5 show how views of funding targeted employment support for different groups vary by demographic and economic characteristics and with respect to people's general attitudes to prejudice and diversity. [54] Unsurprisingly, given the high degree of support for funding employment services targeting people who experience depression and those over 50, there was no significant variation in attitudes to funding these services by gender, age or education. In contrast, views about funding targeted employment support for Gypsy/Travellers, Muslims, gay men and lesbians and black and Asian people varied significantly with age and education, following the by now familiar pattern - older people and those with lower levels of educational attainment were more likely to feel supporting these services was a bad use of government money (Table 6.3). [55] Views also varied by gender, with women less likely than men to view targeting spending on employment services for Muslims, black and Asian people and particularly gay men and lesbians as a bad use of government money.

Table 6.4 Bad/very bad use of government money to give money to organisations that help different groups find work, by gender, age and education (cell %)

% bad/very bad use of government moneyGypsy/ TravellersMuslimsGay men & lesbiansBlack & Asian peoplePeople who exp. Depress-ion from time to timePeople over 50Sample size
All42323028791495
Gender
Men4434343179662
Women4129262678833
Age
18-24281981917113
25-343729282688211
35-443927272398239
45-543932253067270
55-6448313532611275
65+5643473699386
Highest educational qualification
Degree/Higher Education3428292378498
Highers or equivalent3624222267267
Standard Grades or equivalent4631293178386
None58454139912337

6.23 Retired people, rather than those who are themselves in work are most likely to feel that it is a bad use of government money to provide support finding work to particular groups (Table 6.4). [56] This in part reflects the age profile of retired people, since as discussed above, older people were more likely to say that providing government funding for targeted employment services was a bad use of money. [57]

Table 6.5 Bad/very bad use of government money to give money to organisations that help different groups find work, by current economic activity (cell %)

% bad/very bad use of government moneyGypsy/ TravellersMuslimsGay men & lesbiansBlack & Asian peoplePeople who exp. Depress-ion from time to timePeople over 50Sample size
All42323028791495
Current economic activity
In work/waiting to take up paid work3928252768761
Education/training full time1717178-444
Unemployed3825211861480
Retired5342453689448
Looking after the home4529262410685
Other48423238121077

6.24 The one factor that was significantly related to viewing funding targeted services as a bad use of government money across all 6 groups the survey asked about was people's general attitude to prejudice. Those who felt that sometimes there is good reason to be prejudiced were significantly more likely to oppose such targeting, even for people who experience depression from time to time and people over 50 (Table 6.5). So although opposition to targeted services does not necessarily reflect a more prejudiced outlook, this finding suggests that the two may often be related.

6.25 People who are less comfortable with diversity also appear to be more opposed to targeting government spending on Gypsy/Travellers, Muslims, gay men and lesbians and black and Asian people - though people's preferences for living in a diverse or homogenous area had no bearing on their attitudes to targeting employment support on those who experience depression or people over 50 (Table 6.5).

Table 6.6 Bad/very bad use of government money to give money to organisations that help different groups find work, by general attitudes to prejudice and diversity (cell %)

% bad/very bad use of government moneyGypsy/ TravellersMuslimsGay men & lesbiansBlack & Asian peoplePeople who exp. Depress-ion from time to timePeople over 50Sample size
All42323028791495
General attitudes to prejudice
Scotland should do everything it can to get rid of all kinds of prejudice3524252256946
Sometimes there is a good reason for people to be prejudiced584841411013451
Preference for living in an area…
…with lots of different kinds of people3122221968488
…where most people are similar to you5439383579604

Positive action by companies

6.26 Finally, we turn to four questions exploring attitudes to 'positive action' as an approach to promote equality of outcome for different groups of (potential and actual) employees. Respondents were asked to consider four scenarios, and to say for each whether they thought it was 'definitely fair', 'probably fair', 'probably unfair' or 'definitely unfair'. The first two scenarios describe forms of positive action currently permissible by law in the UK[58]:

  • Say a company had fewer women than men in senior jobs and decided to give its women employees extra opportunities to get training and qualifications
  • And say a company had few black and Asian people in senior jobs and decided to give black and Asian people it employed extra opportunities to get training and qualifications.

6.27 The next scenario relates to a more direct, but again legal, form of positive action, aimed at improving the chances of disabled people being selected for interview:

Say several people apply for a job, including someone with a disability. They all meet the necessary requirements for the job. Do you think it would be fair or unfair to automatically give the person with a disability an interview for the job even if other candidates appear to be better qualified?[59]

6.28 The final scenario describes a situation which is currently illegal in the UK (with the exception of shortlists for political candidates):

  • Say a company has very few women in senior jobs. They are about to recruit a new senior manager and decide they want to appoint a woman. Do you think it would be fair or unfair for the company to only interview women for the new job?

6.29 Figure 6.4 shows that positive action is controversial - and the more direct the action, the more controversy it attracts. While only 37% thought that positive action to increase training opportunities for women would be unfair, as many as 79% felt it would be unfair to only interview women for a job. Attitudes to giving a suitably qualified disabled person an automatic interview for a job are almost as critical as views of all women shortlists - 63% said this would be probably or definitely unfair.

6.30 Views of positive action also clearly vary depending on the group being targeted. While 62% felt that positive action to improve training opportunities for women would be fair, only 51% said targeting black and Asian staff in the same way would be fair. It is notable that responses to the two scenarios differ in spite of the fact that the questions explicitly state that both groups are under-represented in senior positions in the companies in question. As such, it is difficult to argue that the difference in responses reflects greater public awareness of the 'glass ceiling' for women compared with differences in the chances of people from ethnic minority groups reaching senior positions.

Figure 6.4 Perceptions of fairness of different kinds of positive action by companies (%) [60]

Figure 6.4 Perceptions of fairness of different kinds of positive action by companies (%)

Sample size: 1,495 (all respondents)

6.31 It is also striking that in relation to these questions, the pattern of responses by age and education is reversed from that seen elsewhere in this report. [61] Those who are typically less likely to hold discriminatory views - younger people and graduates - were more likely to object to positive action across all four measures (Table 6.6). For example, while just 25% of those aged 65 and over felt it would be unfair to offer women extra training opportunities in a company where they are under-represented at a senior level, 39-48% of 18-54 year-olds said this. Similarly, while 44% of those with no qualifications felt giving a suitably qualified disabled person an automatic interview would be unfair, this rose to 71% among graduates. [62] Perhaps working-age people, and particularly those who are better qualified and may hold more senior posts, are most likely to feel they personally would lose out from these types of positive action targeting groups to which they do not belong. This is arguably also why men are particularly less supportive of offering more training opportunities to women (42% of men compared with 32% of women said this would be unfair).

Table 6.7 View positive action as unfair, by gender, age and education (cell %)

% probably/ definitely unfairExtra training for womenExtra training for black & Asian staffAutomatic interview for disabled candidateOnly interview-ing women for postSample size
All374863791495
Gender
Men42516477662
Women32456280833
Age
18-2441497687113
25-3448567277211
35-4442516481239
45-5439506080270
55-6431415879275
65+25415471386
Highest educational qualification
Degree/Higher Education46537184498
Highers or equivalent41517279267
Standard Grades or equivalent35466179386
None22384470337

6.32 This suggestion is further reinforced by findings by class (Table 6.7). It was employers, managers and professionals and those in intermediate occupations, all of whom are already more likely to be in relatively senior posts, who were most likely to view positive action for women - whether extra training or all women shortlists - as unfair. [63] And in terms of people's own current activity, it was those who were themselves in paid work who were most likely to view women only shortlists as unfair.

Table 6.8 View positive action as unfair, by socio-economic class and current economic activity (cell %)

% probably/ definitely unfairExtra training for womenExtra training for black & Asian staffAutomatic interview for disabled candidateOnly interview-ing women for postSample size
All374863791495
Socio-economic class
Employers, managers and professionals42516584519
Intermediate occupations45506281160
Small employers and own account workers41517174144
Lower supervisory and technical occupations38546780166
Semi-routine and routine occupations29415774459
Current economic activity
In work/waiting to take up paid work42526883761
Education/training full time3540787744
Unemployed3642427980
Retired26405373448
Looking after the home3243646385
Other 12956597677

1 - The 'Other' economic activity category includes people who were permanently sick or disabled and people who said they were doing something else, not included elsewhere on the list.

6.33 Finally, it is worth noting that while for many of the other questions discussed in this report, one of the strongest predictors of people's answers was their response to our question about general acceptance or rejection of prejudice (discussed in Chapter Two), this was not significantly associated with any of the four questions on positive action. Those who felt Scotland should do everything it can to get rid of prejudice were no less likely than those who felt prejudice was sometimes justified to view each of these kinds of positive action as unfair. [64]

6.34 These findings highlight that equality campaigners will need to convince a very different section of society of the rationale for positive action from those they may wish to target with anti-discriminatory messages. It cannot be assumed that those who reject discrimination and prejudice on principle will be any more supportive of positive action to promote equality than those who do not.

Summary

6.35 People in Scotland appear strongly committed to the principle of equalising access to services and information for people with disabilities, at least with respect to improving the physical accessibility of shops and banks and the accessibility of public information for people with learning disabilities. However, the issue of spending money on making information about public services accessible to people who do not speak English well is considerably more divisive.

6.36 Attitudes to providing government funding for employment support services that target specific groups depend very much on the group in question. Most people did not appear to be wholly opposed to this kind of targeting on principle, but for specific groups - notably Gypsy/Travellers - a substantial proportion felt it was a bad use of government money.

6.37 People are more likely to express reservations about action to promote equal opportunities for black and Asian people than they are to express explicitly discriminatory views towards black and Asian individuals in the contexts of relationships and employment. However, the opposite was true of people who experience depression from time to time, for whom three quarters supported state funding for targeted employment support.

6.38 Positive action by employers to try and make the profile of their workforce more representative was very contentious. The more direct the form this action takes, the more likely people are to feel it is unfair, with a majority saying this about giving a suitably qualified disabled person an automatic interview and only interviewing women for a job. The former finding is perhaps particularly striking given that some employers already offer guaranteed interview schemes for disabled people.

6.39 This chapter has also shown that the sections of society who were most likely to feel positive action by companies was unfair did not match those who were most likely to express discriminatory views in other contexts or to say that prejudice was sometimes acceptable. The challenge for advocates of positive action is thus to convince those who are opposed to prejudice in general, but appear unconvinced of the case for this kind of action to achieve equality in practice.

6.40 In doing so, they may wish to reflect on findings from another recent Equality and Human Rights Commission study, which explored public understandings of fairness, equality and good relations (Dobbie et al, 2010). This qualitative study highlighted public concern that in order to achieve equality, the needs of the majority would be overlooked and resources would become too focused on the minority. It also emphasised the need for policy makers and activists to be aware of two very distinct understandings of fairness and equality: treating everyone the same regardless of who they are, or treating people differently according to their need. It is this latter view that underpins the arguments for positive action - and it is this view which the public needs to be convinced of if it is to support such schemes.