Publication - Research and analysis

Review of Equality Evidence in Rural Scotland

Published: 13 Feb 2015
Part of:

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.

44 page PDF

712.5 kB

44 page PDF

712.5 kB

Review of Equality Evidence in Rural Scotland

44 page PDF

712.5 kB


5.1 This review has identified the key data sources and literature available to consider the different challenges and opportunities for people living in rural Scotland. The Public Sector Equality Duty requires that Scottish public authorities have 'due regard' to the need to eliminate unlawful discrimination, advance equality of opportunity and foster good relations. Although the story for many households in rural Scotland is one of a good quality of life, there are pockets of poverty and vulnerability due to income, disadvantage, stigmatism and isolation. Population is dispersed over great distances meaning that service provision is often difficult and expensive and innovative solutions are required to ensure equality of opportunity. This review focused on the 6 protected characteristics of age, disability, race, religion, sex and sexual orientation.

Summary Key Findings

5.2 The key findings are summarised below:

Protected Characteristics

5.3 Rural Scotland is home to 17% of the population of Scotland and 94% of the land mass. On the whole the rural population is older than the urban population with out-migration of young people being a particular problem. Rural areas also tend to have less diversity than urban areas in terms of race and religion. It is also thought that there are less lesbian or gay people in rural Scotland but there is little robust data. Disability is related to age - as people get older their propensity for disability rises. Despite ageing populations, disability tends to be lower in rural Scotland with residents (disabled or not) saying that their health is generally better than urban counterparts.


5.4 Given the dispersed nature of the population it is not surprising that transport is of concern in rural areas. There is a high reliance on the car to access key services which can be expensive. However the issue is particularly severe for those who do not drive (younger people, older people, those with a disability, lower income or vulnerable people) with public transport often not physically accessible nor affordable. Older people have concessionary bus passes but the public bus services are often not frequent enough to be useful. There is evident good practice developing around community bus networks[30], lift sharing and more accessible ferries and terminals in certain areas.


5.5 Many areas of rural Scotland have a lack of available housing. The review suggests this is a particular problem 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.


5.6 Generally employment rates are higher in rural Scotland than urban Scotland and this is mirrored in the employment rates of equality groups with disabled people, youth employment, older people more likely to have employment in rural areas than urban. However there are still differences between groups with disabled people less likely to be employed 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 racial groups. It must also be noted that there are parts of rural Scotland where employment is as low as parts of urban Scotland and in those areas employment rates amongst equality groups are also lower.


5.7 Access to skills and training and further education were generally felt to be more challenging in rural Scotland than the rest of Scotland.


5.8 Health expectations are generally better in rural than urban Scotland. The review found that satisfaction with primary care services was higher in rural areas but there were issues with access to care services such as specialist care, out of hours care and obtaining medicines. This was a mixture of a perceived lack of locally available services and poor public transport networks to enable travel to services.

Mental Health and Stigma

5.9 There was 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. A similar pattern was found in terms of a lack of availability of drug awareness, counselling, sex education services, but also the fear of a stigma associated with using them. Evidence on discrimination was lacking although some qualitative evidence does show specific cases where sexual orientation, race or religion was problematic and the review, although much of the literature is dated, suggests that an equality infrastructure (strategy, awareness raising and service plans) was not as widely available as expected in all services. Isolation of some people in dispersed communities was seen as an issue especially if people were not mobile.

Lack of Evidence

5.10 The review used the best available evidence but it was evident that there were a number of constraints:

  • Rural data was not available as standard from the main Surveys. Analysis could only be undertaken by requesting specific analysis.
  • Sample numbers were often too small to allow any output for rural rather than urban Scotland, let alone the more useful rural/urban classification. They also prevented sub-group analysis.
  • Little contemporary literature was available for rural Scotland so much of the review refers to dated literature and/or Scotland-wide or urban Scotland findings. These findings can provide interesting insights but the data limitations should be noted.
  • Census data has helped to fill some evidence gaps on disability, race and religion but questions on sexual orientation were not included on the Census and baseline data remains scarce.
  • Policies on housing, health, education and transport can have significant impacts on rural population. This review should be helpful in identifying specific equality issues to consider.
  • Additional work considering the equality issues around environmental policy and access to the outdoors were not included. This is an important dimension and work will be carried out during 2015.


Email: Liz Hawkins