Scotland’s Equality Evidence Strategy 2023-2025

This strategy sets out our approach to improving and strengthening Scotland’s equality evidence base over a three year period to the end of 2025.

3. Background

What is equality evidence?

Where 'equality evidence' is used in this strategy, it refers to statistics and research across a range of characteristics, including "intersections" between characteristics (such as younger women; minority ethnic disabled people; older trans people etc.).

The equality evidence covered by this strategy goes beyond the protected characteristics of the Equality Act 2010 to cover identity characteristics more generally.[2]

The Scottish Government and its partners already collect and publish a range of quantitative and qualitative equality evidence. This includes evidence from the Census, population surveys, administrative datasets and social research. The Scottish Government also regularly identifies and uses equality evidence produced externally by the wider public sector, academic institutions and the third sector to ensure the latest evidence is used to inform our work.

Given that the purpose of equality evidence is often to identify differences among and between relatively small groups of the population, some datasets have more practical utility than others. The most comprehensive source of equality statistics at national and local levels can be obtained from Scotland's Census as everyone in the population is required to submit a return, thus enabling the collection of a range of equality data from the vast majority of the population (although responding to some of the equality questions is voluntary). There are also strong subject-specific administrative data sources, such as data gathered through the delivery of education, health, transport and justice services. In most cases these data sources can be analysed at more localised geographic areas, as well as being available for whole Scotland statistics. 

It is important to note that not all datasets are owned and managed by the Scottish Government. Some key datasets used by the Scottish Government are, for example, owned by departments of the UK Government, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and Non-Departmental Public Bodies (NDPBs).

At a national level, the Scottish population surveys (Health; Household; Crime and Justice) all have a common core that allows their samples to be combined for a limited number of questions – this includes the equality questions. In addition, the Annual Population Survey (APS) provides equality breakdowns of key labour market statistics. Equality-focused sample boosts could help population surveys to provide more robust data for smaller sub-groups in the population, although this practice has to be weighed against the robustness of a purely random sample and the significant cost implications of a boost. The Scottish Government already contributes to sample boosts of some surveys led by the UK Government and the ONS to ensure that there is sufficient data collected in Scotland to allow for the robust disaggregation of the Scottish sample by person and/or household characteristics.

Alongside statistical data, qualitative evidence forms a critical part of the equality evidence base. The Scottish Government and its partners regularly commission and support research to fill identified quantitative and qualitative evidence gaps across a range of domains, including undertaking recurring research to examine changes over time. Qualitative research allows for the collection of rich and detailed evidence into the lived experiences of groups with shared and intersecting characteristics. Alongside providing valuable insights to complement available statistics, qualitative evidence may be particularly useful in informing understanding of the experiences of smaller groups of people for whom robust statistics cannot be produced from population-level datasets.

The Scottish Government is increasingly using participatory methods to actively involve people with lived experience (see Participation and engagement for details). Public involvement can be a strong way to ensure that marginalised communities, such as those with intersecting characteristics, are actively engaged in the whole research process from conceptualisation through to implementation and dissemination. Involving people with lived experience could take multiple forms, including co-production, panels, appointment of public advisors and user-led research. It is important to note, however, that when public involvement is attempted without equity between researcher and those with lived experience there is a risk that it could be seen as tokenistic and could perpetuate any pre-existing power imbalances.

The intersectional approach

Strengthening the equality evidence base is not just about filling data gaps via statistical collections, but also about understanding how an individual's experience of structural inequality arises across different contexts and designing research in ways that take into account inequality in power and privilege.

The term 'intersectionality' has its roots in Black feminist activism, and was originally coined by American critical legal race scholar Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw in 1989. Crenshaw used the term intersectionality to refer to the double discrimination of racism and sexism faced by Black women, critiquing the "single-axis framework that is dominant in antidiscrimination law, feminist theory and anti-racist politics" for its focus on the experiences of the most privileged members of subordinate groups.[3] Specifically, Crenshaw highlighted legal cases wherein women were required to choose between bringing a claim of racism or sexism and could not say that they had been discriminated against due to the combined effects of race and sex. Since its original usage, the term 'intersectionality' has been increasingly used in reference to combinations between a range of characteristics, in addition to race and sex, such as disability, sexual orientation, occupation and socio-economic disadvantage, and wider life experiences.

If applied correctly, the 'intersectional approach' has the potential to advance efforts to identify, understand and tackle structural inequality in a given context in a way that focuses on the lived experience of people most affected. For example, intersectionality helps us to understand how people experience services, such as education and healthcare, differently as a result of their identity and unequal power dynamics. Understanding these differences helps us to develop more effective and inclusive policies and services.

An evidence synthesis undertaken by the Scottish Government proposed the following as the foundational elements of intersectionality (represented visually in Figure 1 below):

  • a recognition that people are shaped by their simultaneous membership of multiple interconnected social categories (including the characteristics covered by this strategy)
  • the interaction between multiple social categories occurs within a context of connected systems and structures of power (e.g. laws, policies, governments). A recognition of inequality of power is key to intersectionality
  • structural inequalities, reflected as relative disadvantage and privilege, are the outcomes of the interaction between social categories, power relations and contexts. As a result, an individual's experiences of inequality can be chronic or transitory, creating unique lived experiences

It should be noted that it is the interaction or "intersection" of two or more characteristics with power dynamics within a given context that gives rise to inequality, not just the presence of intersecting characteristics on their own.

Figure 1: Diagrammatic representation of the relationship between the foundational elements of intersectionality.

Membership of multiple interconnected social categories + Connected systems and structures of power = Structural inequality

The Scottish Government proposed five key considerations that policymakers and analysts should take into account when taking an intersectional approach:

1. contextualisation: structural inequality should be understood within existing systems and structures of power

2. reflexivity: policymakers and analysts should consider how their own power and lived experiences impacts on their ability to make decisions

3. public involvement: participatory approaches ensure that those with lived experience have a central voice in the development, implementation and evaluation of policies

4. reaching marginalised groups: reducing barriers to participation is a critical consideration in the design and delivery of effective research

5. innovative statistical approaches: analysts should consider the full range of options for carrying out robust intersectional data analysis to make the best use of existing datasets

The role of equality evidence in the policy process

Equality evidence is critical to improving understanding of if and how services and outcomes differ. As shown in Figure 2, below, it is a cyclical process with several stages:

1. identifying the purpose or need for evidence collection

2. designing an approach to collect that evidence

3. removing barriers to encourage a good response

4. ensuring the evidence is high quality and utilised as fully as possible

5. reporting according to useful categories that consider intersectionality and are relevant to services and outcomes

6. identifying the impact on outcomes and services

Figure 2: The cyclical process of using equality evidence in policy design and delivery.

There is always a need to be clear on what evidence is required – and why – to ensure that the right evidence is collected, using the most appropriate methods, to meet the specified purpose, and to balance costs and benefits.

It is important to ensure that existing evidence is used before deciding to collect new evidence. There already exists a range of equality evidence collected and published for a number of groups and outcomes in Scotland. The existing evidence base must be thoroughly reviewed to identify whether existing evidence can be adapted or utilised to help understand the policy or service. Making best use of available evidence means that groups are not overburdened or asked to answer the same questions multiple times, and that available resources are maximised. When considering the purpose of equality evidence collection, it is key to consider the likely limitations of making decisions based on the available evidence base.

There will be instances where the existing equality evidence base is insufficient to inform decision making. Where new evidence is required, it is usually much easier and cheaper to collect equality data if it is built into data collection systems from the start. As a new service is developed, the related IT system should be established to collect relevant equality evidence and, as services are redesigned to respond to equality data reporting, the data collection itself should be reviewed to ensure it remains fit for purpose. Opportunities to involve and collaborate with groups most affected, particularly those with lived experience, must be sought throughout this process.

When reporting and communicating equality evidence, it is important to do so ethically in ways that ensure confidentiality and anonymity of participants, that build trust and do not stigmatise groups for any inequality of outcomes identified (see Reporting and communication of equality evidence). There should always be clear communication with the groups affected to set out the findings and how the evidence has been used to inform policy design (see Trust).

How does the Scottish Government use equality evidence?

The Scottish Government is committed to ensuring that equality, human rights and children's rights are embedded into everything we do. In so doing, the Scottish Government uses equality evidence for a wide variety of purposes. This includes producing official or national statistics, updating National Performance Framework (NPF) indicators and commissioning social research to inform ministerial decision making around policy directions and budget allocations. Some of these purposes are detailed further below. The availability of robust equality evidence supports the Scottish Government in its ambition to develop and deliver inclusive, evidence-based policies and services.

Legal obligations

In order to meet the legal duties set out in the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) and the Scottish Specific Duties (SSDs) and to deliver good, fair outcomes, policymakers and practitioners need robust evidence on the nine protected characteristics (see Box 1). This data enables them to understand whether their services, policies and strategies are having differential impacts in terms of access, satisfaction and outcomes. This is as true for a locally delivered policy, strategy or service as it is for indicators in the NPF.

Box 1: The Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED)

The PSED was introduced by the Equality Act 2010 and came into force on 5 April 2011. The Equality Act applies in Scotland, England and Wales and covers age, disability, sex, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, marriage and civil partnership[4] and sexual orientation. The PSED applies to specified public bodies and other bodies when carrying out public functions, who must have due regard to the need to:

1. eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation and other conduct prohibited by the Act

2. advance equality of opportunity between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not

3. foster good relations between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not

In 2012, Scottish Ministers made regulations that placed specific duties on Scottish public bodies to help them meet the requirements of the PSED, known as the Scottish Specific Duties (SSDs). The SSDs are intended to provide a supporting framework to enable certain public authorities to better perform their PSED, through enhanced data collection and evaluation, and greater transparency and accountability. In this way, the specific duties help authorities to better perform their duty to have 'due regard' to all 3 needs of the PSED, and to mainstream equality in their everyday work.

Data protection law does not prevent specified public bodies and other bodies from processing personal data for the purposes of the general or specific duties, and should not be considered a barrier to equality evidence collection.[5] However, it is important that any processing of personal data is in compliance with data protection legislation.

The Scottish Government is currently reviewing the effectiveness of the PSED in Scotland, and recently ran a consultation on proposals. The results of the consultation are available in an analysis report. Through the engagement carried out to date, substantial feedback has been received on the current implementation of the PSED, including that impact assessments are often carried out too late in the policy development process. Evidence should be used to inform a course of action, rather than just used to assess potential impacts once a policy direction has already been decided on. Furthermore, impact assessments can sometimes use little evidence or involve limited engagement with people with lived experience. The Scottish Government will seek to address the issues identified in our engagement to-date in the next stages of the review.

The SSDs requires listed authorities, including the Scottish Government, to assess and review the equality impact of their policies and practices. In making the assessment, listed authorities must consider relevant evidence relating to persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and take account of the results when developing the policy. In practice, this requirement has given rise to the carrying out and publication of Equality Impact Assessments (EQIAs) that help to identify and guard against potential risks of discrimination and human rights breaches.

EQIAs are of critical importance in tackling inequality and developing better policy and, in order to carry one out, a policymaker should gather evidence to consider the needs of different groups or individuals in advance of determining a proposed approach and, once a course of action is decided on, the potential impacts it will have across the nine protected characteristics defined under the Equality Act 2010. Impact assessments should gather and use evidence to address all three needs of the PSED (see Box 1). The evidence could take the form of existing evidence, for example official or national statistics, or a policymaker may gather new evidence on the likely impact of a proposed policy on people with protected characteristics. In practice, most EQIAs usually summarise the information available to a policymaker when an action is proposed but will not usually create new evidence. Thus, ensuring that robust and comprehensive evidence on the nine protected characteristics is readily available to meet current and anticipated user needs is essential to the production of effective EQIAs.

Equality budgeting

The Equality and Fairer Scotland Budget Statement (EFSBS) is a key document published alongside the main Scottish Budget every year. The EFSBS assesses how budget decisions impact people with protected characteristics and those experiencing socio-economic disadvantage, supporting the Scottish Government to meet its legal requirements under the Equality Act 2010, the PSED and the Fairer Scotland Duty. The EFSBS includes a detailed analysis of the impact of each ministerial portfolio's spend against each protected characteristic and socio-economic disadvantage. The EFSBS relies on the availability of robust up-to-date evidence to identify what is known about existing inequality of outcomes and what contribution the portfolio's budget makes to addressing these issues.

National Performance Framework (NPF)

Scotland's National Performance Framework (NPF) is Scotland's wellbeing framework, setting out a vision for national wellbeing in Scotland. In order to achieve this purpose, it sets out 'National Outcomes' which describe the kind of Scotland we are working towards.

These National Outcomes are that we:

  • grow up loved, safe and respected so that they realise their full potential
  • live in communities that are inclusive, empowered, resilient and safe
  • are creative and their vibrant and diverse cultures are expressed and enjoyed widely
  • have a globally competitive, entrepreneurial, inclusive and sustainable economy
  • are well educated, skilled and able to contribute to society
  • value, enjoy, protect and enhance their environment
  • have thriving and innovative businesses, with quality jobs and fair work for everyone
  • are healthy and active
  • respect, protect and fulfil human rights and live free from discrimination
  • are open, connected and make a positive contribution internationally
  • tackle poverty by sharing opportunities, wealth and power more equally

Progress against these outcomes is measured using 'National Indicators'. Each of the 11 National Outcomes have a set of indicators that underpin them and can be used to help understand if progress is being made. There are 81 indicators in total.

Robust equality data allows us to analyse the indicators by protected characteristics, which helps us to understand if different groups of people in Scotland – such as women, disabled people, older people – are achieving the National Outcomes or not. Available equality breakdowns for the NPF indicators are presented on the Scottish Government's Equality Evidence Finder. In addition, the Scottish Government's Wellbeing Economy Toolkit, designed to help local and regional decision makers solve problems in ways that support their area's transition to a wellbeing economy, was published in November 2022. The toolkit included useful sources of data and evidence that could help policymakers further explore evidence of place-based wellbeing outcomes, drivers, and the indicators in the local-level Wellbeing Economy Monitor.



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