Scottish Social Attitudes 2015: attitudes to discrimination and positive action

This report explores attitudes to discrimination and positive action in Scotland in relation to: age, disability, gender, race, religion, gender reassignment and sexual orientation.

This document is part of a collection

1. Introduction

This report presents findings from the 2015 Scottish Social Attitudes survey ( SSA). It provides a detailed picture of the current state of public attitudes to discrimination and positive action in Scotland. As this is the fourth time SSA has included questions on attitudes to discrimination (following previous studies in 2002, 2006 and 2010), this report also provides valuable insight into how public attitudes have changed over time.

In 2015, SSA included questions on general attitudes to prejudice, personal relationships, equality of opportunity in the labour market, parental leave, religious dress and symbols, positive action and discrimination in the workplace. These questions were funded jointly by the Scottish Government and the Equality and Human Rights Commission ( EHRC).


Discriminatory attitudes

The definition of a 'discriminatory attitude' employed in this report was first developed as part of the 2002 SSA discrimination module. A 'discriminatory attitude' is defined as:

'One that directly or indirectly suggests that some social groups may not be entitled to engage in the full panoply of social, economic and political activities that are thought to be the norm for most citizens. In short, it is an attitude that openly or tacitly legitimates some form of social exclusion.'

This definition was not designed to reflect any particular legal definition of discrimination. Rather, it encompasses any attitude that indicates a reluctance to allow someone who belongs to a particular group to participate in an activity that would not be denied to (most) other people, irrespective of whether or not it is currently illegal to deny people such opportunities.

This report focuses on discriminatory attitudes as opposed to discriminatory behaviour - that is, behaviour by individuals and institutions 'that either deliberately or inadvertently excludes particular groups from enjoying the rights, dignity, services and resources available to others' (Ormston et al, 2011). Although it is possible for such behaviour to occur in the absence of individual discriminatory attitudes (for example as a result of bias in institutional procedures), in practice discriminatory attitudes often underpin discriminatory behaviour. If people believe that members of a particular group in society should not be entitled to the same rights and resources as others, they may be more likely to express this through actions that exclude individuals from that group. Even where discriminatory attitudes do not translate into particular discriminatory behaviours, reducing the prevalence of such attitudes may be seen as an important part of building and maintaining positive relationships across society.

Policy context

In the thirteen years since SSA first included questions on discrimination, there have been extensive changes to equality legislation and considerable public and media debate about equality and discrimination (see Figure 1.1 for a summary of some of the key changes over this period). At the same time, the structure of our society has changed. Older people now account for around 18% of the Scottish population ( NRS, 2015), with the number of households headed by people aged 65 and over projected to increase by around 54% between 2012 and 2037. [1] The size of Scotland's non-white ethnic minority population doubled from 2% in 2001 to 4% in 2011, with 16% of households in Scotland including multiple ethnic groups. [2] The EHRC's recent report 'Is Scotland Fairer?' ( EHRC, 2016) notes a continued rise in public acceptance of LGB lifestyles across Britain, suggesting that some minority groups that were once more hidden, such as transgender people, may now feel more confident about publicly expressing their identity ( EHRC, 2010).

The Scottish Government has made a commitment to promoting equality of opportunity:

'No one should be denied opportunities because of age, disability, gender identity, race, religion or belief, or sexual orientation. This principle underpins all the work of the Scottish Government'. [3]

Whilst significant progress has been made in tackling inequality, the Scottish Government recognises that there is still much work to be done to achieve a fully inclusive society. In addition to explicitly recognising the wider importance of challenging discriminatory attitudes in Scotland, the Scottish Government has also made specific commitments to improving the working conditions of pregnant women and those on maternity leave, [4] implementing a framework for promoting race equality, [5] supporting organisations aimed at promoting interfaith dialogue and religious cohesion, producing a strategy to allow disabled people to have the same equality and human rights as non-disabled people and encouraging activity to close the gender pay gap in Scotland. [6]

The Scottish Government has also established an Independent Advisory Group on Hate Crime, Prejudice and Community Cohesion, launched a strategy on the prevention and eradication of violence against women and girls, supported activity to tackle LGBTI+ bullying in schools, and is working collaboratively with partners to support the integration of asylum seekers and refugees in Scotland.

Figure 1.1 Timeline of key legislative changes and media and other events

Figure 1.1 Timeline of key legislative changes and media and other events

Equality data and evidence are essential for supporting sound policy making and decision taking. In that context the findings contained in this report contribute to our understanding of the underlying assumptions and attitudes that impact on public views and behaviours.

Positive action

As well as discriminatory attitudes, this report also explores public attitudes to positive action. 'Positive action' has been defined by the Law Society as follows:

'Positive action is one way of trying to counteract deep-rooted or historic disadvantage by providing under-represented or disadvantaged groups with help to ensure they have the same chances as others' (Law Society, 2011).

Positive action is lawful under the Equality Act 2010 and is most commonly applied in an employment setting. Positive action can be seen as a mechanism to enable disadvantaged groups to either enter into the workforce or develop and/ or progress through the workplace. The EHRC describes it as an action to 'encourage people from groups with different needs or with a past track record of disadvantage or low participation to take up training, development, promotion or transfer opportunities' ( EHRC, 2014).

Positive action on the part of an employer can include providing access to specific schemes to women only, encouraging candidates from minority groups in society to apply for positions within an organisation where those groups are under-represented, and establishing bursaries to support students from disadvantaged backgrounds where such students are under-represented (Law Society, 2011).

The 2015 survey aims

Against this backdrop of legislative and social change, the main aims of the questions on discrimination and positive action included in SSA 2015 were:

  • To measure the extent and character of discriminatory attitudes in Scotland in 2015 - including comparing attitudes to different groups and in different contexts
  • To explore the extent of support for positive action to try and achieve equality for different groups, and
  • To examine how attitudes have changed over time

As in 2010, the 2015 survey explored attitudes to men and women, people from ethnic minority groups, disabled people, lesbian and gay people, people of different faiths, older people and transgender people. Major additions since the 2010 survey included:

  • additional questions about attitudes to maternal and paternal leave after the birth of a child
  • questions on attitudes towards recruitment via social networks

It is important to note that in a general population survey there is relatively limited scope for subgroup analysis to explore the views of those with protected characteristics. Although this year's sample of 1,288 is large enough to enable detailed statistical analysis of the views of the Scottish population as a whole and for large subsections of society, like men and women and people of different ages, groups that are small in number in the population as a whole will also constitute a small proportion of the sample, meaning that the sample size is too small to provide statistically significant comparisons.

About the data

The Scottish Social Attitudes ( SSA) survey, run annually by ScotCen Social Research since 1999, provides a robust and reliable picture of changing public attitudes over time. SSA is based on face-to-face interviews with a representative random probability sample of those aged 18 and over in Scotland. In 2015 the sample size was 1,288, with fieldwork taking place between July 2015 and January 2016. Data are weighted in order to correct for non-response bias and over-sampling, and to ensure that they reflect the age-sex profile of the Scottish population. Further technical details about the survey are published in a separate SSA 2015 technical report. [7]

All percentages cited in this report are based on the weighted data and are rounded to the nearest whole number. All differences described in the text (between years, or between different groups of people) are statistically significant at the 95% level or above, unless otherwise specified. This means that the probability of having found a difference of at least this size if there was no actual difference in the population is 5% or less. The term 'significant' is used in this report to refer to statistical significance, and is not intended to imply substantive importance. Further details of significance testing and analysis are included in the separate technical report.

Report structure and conventions

The remainder of this report is structured as follows:

Chapter 2. Discusses general attitudes to prejudice in Scotland, and looks at differences in the kinds of people who are more or less likely to hold discriminatory views.

Chapter 3. Explores discriminatory attitudes in the context of personal relationships. It compares opinions on people from different groups across society forming a long-term relationship with a family member.

Chapter 4. Looks at discriminatory attitudes in the context of employment, comparing views on the suitability of people from different groups in society as primary school teachers.

Chapter 5. Examines how and why discriminatory attitudes may have changed between 2010 and 2015.

Chapter 6. Focuses on public attitudes towards paid parental leave, forced retirement and the use of social networks to recruit new employees.

Chapter 7. Explores attitudes to religious dress and symbols, and contrasts views on Christian, Sikh and Muslim dress.

Chapter 8. Discusses attitudes to different kinds of positive action and explores attitudes to equal pay.

Chapter 9. Summarises the main conclusions of the report.


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