Review of Equality Evidence in Rural Scotland

This review focuses on 6 protected characteristics of age, disability, race, religion, sex and sexual orientation and considers how presence of these protected characteristics may impact on access to, and satisfaction with, service provision in rural Scotland.


1.1 This review focuses on 6 protected characteristics of age, disability, race, religion, sex and sexual orientation and considers how presence of these protected characteristics may impact on access to, and satisfaction with, service provision in rural Scotland. It collates statistics and key findings from the literature in order to improve understanding of the profile of equality groups in rural areas of Scotland as well as to provide an overview of the various equality issues and their impact on a range of policy issues including: employment, health, housing, transport, poverty, education and discrimination.

1.2 The review does not consider the 3 protected characteristics of gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership and pregnancy and maternity due to a lack of statistical data and relevant literature in rural Scotland.

1.3 The review does not consider environmental policy areas such as access to and use of the outdoors, or varying influences of people with protected characteristics on land use decision making. These policy areas are acknowledged as important and further work will be developed in 2015 to review them relative to specific protected characteristics.

1.4 Although the review was undertaken in 2014 it is apparent that contemporary research is relatively scarce and as a result some of the literature referenced in the review is quite dated. While such evidence can provide useful insights, there are obvious limitations with this data, particularly around its relevance to the current policy context. Similarly, although some additional statistical analysis was commissioned, sample numbers were often too small to provide any meaningful analysis in a rural-urban context. This is particularly the case for the characteristics of race, religion and sexual orientation.

1.5 The review identified that the rural population is older than the urban population. Just under a quarter (24%) of the population in remote rural areas is aged 65 years and over, compared with 19% in accessible rural areas and 17% in the rest of Scotland[1]. According to the latest census figures there are 6 council areas (all rural) in which one fifth of the population are aged 65 and over: Argyll and Bute, Dumfries and Galloway, Eilean Siar, South Ayrshire, Scottish Borders and Perth and Kinross and in some areas the growth in older populations has been substantial; Orkney's population aged 65 and over increased by almost a third and Shetland's by almost a quarter between 2001 and 2011.

1.6 Similarly, there are less younger people in rural areas than urban with out-migration of young people being identified in the review as a particular problem. Around 18% of the population living in remote rural areas and 20% of those living in accessible rural areas are aged 16-34, compared with 26% for the rest of Scotland[2].

1.7 According to the Scottish Household Survey, overall there is a lower proportion of adults with a long term limiting illness or disability living in rural areas compared to urban areas. In 2012, 21% of the rural population reported having a disability or long term limiting illness compared with 26% in urban areas. This lower proportion is despite the fact that there is a higher proportion of older people living in rural areas and that the prevalence of disability and long term limiting illness increases with age.

1.8 However, data from the Census in 2011 also shows that levels of disability are rising in many of the smaller and more rural councils. Further it shows that a higher percentage of the population in remote small towns reported having a disability or long term limiting illness compared with remote rural areas or urban areas (32%, 22% or 26% respectively, Scottish Household Survey 2012).

1.9 There were more women than men in Scotland in 2011 (51.5% compared to 48.5%) and this is the case for all council areas except the Shetland Islands (Census, 2011).

1.10 Whilst the largest concentrations of ethnic minorities are found in the cities, every council area of Scotland has seen an increase in the proportion of their population who were born outside of the UK between 2001 and 2011, including in rural areas. According to latest census figures all council areas except for Eilean Siar and Orkney Islands now have more than 1% of their population from a minority ethnic group.

1.11 There has been a decrease in stated religious affiliation in both urban and rural areas since 2001. According to the Census, there was an 11 percentage point fall between 2001 and 2011 in the proportion of people reporting they had a religion. This decrease occurred in every council area, though some of the more rural council areas experienced the largest falls, for instance, in Angus there was a decrease of 14 percentage points.

1.12 There is no sexual orientation question in the Census, resulting in a lack of any baseline data in respect of the lesbian, gay, bisexual population in Scotland. However, for the first time in 2011 the Scottish Household Survey included a question on the sexual orientation of respondents. According to this survey data, there are slightly less people identifying as lesbian, gay or bisexual in rural areas compared to urban areas (0.5% and 1.2% respectively). However, it is important to note that the surveys may underestimate the lesbian, gay and bisexual population due to under-reporting.

1.13 The experience of policy areas in relation to protected characteristics is complex and dependent on the type of service discussed. For example young people and disabled people without a car and older people who no longer drive can all identify with similar issues around access and convenience of public transport but may have totally different perspectives on health care, employment or housing needs.

1.14 Given the dispersed nature of the population it is not surprising that transport was identified in the evidence review as a concern in rural areas. The issue can be particularly severe for those who do not drive (younger people, older people, those with a disability, lower income or vulnerable people) in cases where public transport is not physically accessible, convenient nor affordable. There is evident good practice developing around community bus networks, lift sharing and more accessible ferries and terminals in certain areas.

1.15 The literature also identifies that many areas of rural Scotland appear to have a lack of available housing particularly for newly forming households (the young or less well-off in-migrants), for older people who require adaptations to allow them to live in their own home, or more specialist provision for older and/or disabled people. Recent years have seen new approaches to housing supply in rural Scotland but, as in other parts of Scotland, challenges remain.

1.16 Generally employment rates are higher in rural Scotland than urban Scotland and this is mirrored in the employment rates of people with protected characteristics: Disabled people, younger people (16-34), older people are more likely to have employment in rural areas than urban. However there are still differences, for example disabled people are still less likely to be employed in rural areas than non-disabled people. Similar evidence is not available for race and religion in rural Scotland although some qualitative studies do refer to the potential under-employment in terms of skills of people from different ethnic groups.

1.17 Statistics suggest that fewer school leavers in remote rural areas go on to further education or training but a higher proportion gain employment.

1.18 The review found that people in rural areas tended to be more positive about their experiences of primary care services however there were still issues related to access to some types of care services (including out of hours care) and access to medicines. This was a mixture of a perceived lack of locally available services and poor public transport networks to enable travel to services. There was also some evidence that mental health services were less available in rural Scotland and that due to closer knit communities it was sometimes more difficult for people to make use of those services that were provided.


Email: Liz Hawkins

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