5. How is social capital distributed in Scotland?
Trends at a national level are helpful for providing a summary of what is happening overall in society but can mask differences between communities, geographies and subgroups of the population.
This section of the report looks at how social capital is distributed across social groups and geographies, including places, personal factors, amenities and influence over local decisions.
Where we live
There are large variations in measures of social capital within and between different geographies, including local authority areas, areas of higher deprivation, and urban and rural areas.
For example, 39% of those in West Dunbartonshire rated their neighbourhood as ‘very good’ (the most positive category) compared to the Scottish average of 57% and the highest scoring places Na h-Eileanan Siar (84%), Orkney (82%) and Shetland (75%).
Similar variation exists across many of the measures of social capital as illustrated in Fig 15, and there are large variations from the Scotland average across the country.
Fig 15. The highest and lowest 3 outlying local authority areas on measures of social capital. There are large variations from the Scotland average across authorities. (Scottish Household Survey, 2018)
There is also variation across areas with higher and lower levels of deprivation. People in less deprived areas are more likely to rate their neighbourhood positively and say there are places to meet and socialise (Fig 16).
Fig 16. People are more likely to rate their neighbourhood positively in less deprived areas.
There are similar levels of social interaction (74% of people meet friends, relatives, neighbours or work colleagues on a weekly basis in the least deprived areas, compared with 72% of people in the most deprived areas) but people living in the most deprived areas are much more likely to experience loneliness (see Fig 17). This suggests that the absence of social contact is not the only, or the main, factor for understanding loneliness.
Fig 17. People in more and less deprived locations have a similar level of social interaction, but experience of loneliness is much higher in more deprived areas
Urban and rural areas
People living in rural areas are more likely to report higher than average levels of social capital across most of the social capital measures (Fig 18) – often significantly higher than the Scotland average. Within the urban and rural classifications, places with the lowest levels of social capital, by these measures, are often the areas that are classified as ‘large urban’ (settlements with more than 125,000 people) and ‘other urban’ (settlements with between 10,000 and 124,999 people).
Fig 18. Social capital, by urban and rural classification. People in accessible and remote rural areas are much more likely to report higher than average levels of social capital across most of the measures.
The variation across places needs to be understood with reference to information about the people who live in these areas, the local economy, history, and environment. One of the stories included in this report (James’s story in section 4) illustrates how these factors inter-relate and how changes in the local economy, through the withdrawal of employers and industries, led to a decline in social relationships.
Personal and life course factors
As well as variations in the strength of social connections in different places, there are also differences for groups within the population.
Gender: There are similar levels of social capital for women and men across most social capital questions in the Scottish Household Survey. However measures of social networks and neighbour relations are higher for women than for men, and women are more likely to feel able to rely on their neighbours and take part in formal and informal volunteering.
Women are however less likely to feel safe in their neighbourhood at night (74% of women compared to 91% of men) and are more likely to have experienced loneliness ‘in the last week’ (24% of women compared to 19% of men).
Age: Measures of social networks and cohesion– such as relationships with neighbours, neighbourhood belonging, trust and kindness – tend to improve with age. However social interaction through regular meetings with other people was highest in the youngest age category, reduced for people in their thirties and forties, then rose again for people in the 60+ age categories. People aged 65+ typically have higher levels of neighbour support, and a greater sense of belonging to their neighbourhood. Despite having the highest levels of social interaction, people in the youngest and oldest age categories also had the highest experiences of loneliness (Fig 19).
Fig 19 . Isolation and loneliness, by age category. People in the youngest and oldest age categories had higher levels of loneliness, and also higher levels of weekly social interactions.
Ethnicity: In the Scottish Household Survey people from minority ethnic backgrounds have lower levels of neighbourhood help and trust, but also higher levels of ‘getting on well together’ with people in the neighbourhood, and the availability of places to meet and interact and meet new people. Because of small sample sizes, data within the Scottish Household Survey does not allow for more detailed exploration to understand more about the nature of social connections among different ethnic groups in the population. The data in this report however suggests there are important patterns that could be considered in other research.
Disabled people: Disabled people are slightly less likely to meet socially with friends, relatives, and work colleagues at least once a week, but are more than twice as likely as non-disabled people to say they had experienced loneliness (Fig 20). Disabled people are also much less likely to feel safe in their neighbourhood than people who aren’t disabled.
Fig 20. Isolation and loneliness, by disability. Disabled people are slightly less likely to have regular social meetings, but are more than twice as likely to experience feelings of loneliness.
Tenure: Social and private renters have similar levels of social contact and interaction as people who own their home, but the measures of loneliness are almost twice as high for social renters when compared to private renters. And 84% of homeowners have a sense of belonging to their neighbourhood compared to 72% of socially rented households and 60% cent of privately rented households.
Whilst socially rented households have a stronger feeling of belonging to their neighbourhood compared to privately rented households, they report lower levels of community cohesion across other variables and significantly lower levels of agreement that there are places to interact and socialise, and places to meet new people in their neighbourhood (Fig 21).
Fig 21. Places to meet, by tenure. Measures of places to meet, interact and socialise are lower for people in socially rented accommodation than other tenure categories.
Employment: The latest statistics from the Scottish Household Survey show that 49% of adults aged 16-64 are employed full time, 13% are employed part time, 8% are self-employed, 7% are in higher/further education, 5% are unemployed and seeking work and 6% are permanently sick, have short-term ill-health or are disabled.
Data (provided in Annex B) shows that there is large variation in measures of social capital between people in employment or education, and people who are unemployed or permanently sick, in ill-health or disabled, with the latter groups having far higher levels of loneliness than the Scotland average. Fifty one percent of people who are off work through illness or disability, and 38% of people who are unemployed and seeking work, experienced loneliness in the last week. These levels are much higher than the national average (21%). These patterns are also present in other measures of social networks, cohesion, empowerment and participation. Further work is required to understand the relationships in the data between employment, education and social connections.
Patterns of inequality
As reported above, there are different patterns of social connection across sub-groups in the population. One of the most apparent differences is in the complex pattern between social interaction and loneliness (see Fig 22), which illustrates the importance of acknowledging the range of factors that drive this element of our wellbeing.
Some groups within the population (including women, people in remote towns, and the youngest and oldest age groups) experience higher levels of loneliness and higher levels of social interaction. Some groups (e.g. disabled people, unemployed people, people in socially rented housing and people in more deprived areas) have higher levels of loneliness and lower levels of social interaction.
Fig 22. Loneliness and isolation, difference to the Scotland average by group. There is a complex association between loneliness and social interaction.
Case study stories for this research (see Kay’s Story in section 4) help to illustrate how the design of services and communities can exacerbate exclusionary effects further, and create mental health problems through inappropriately designed or inaccessible services.
Amenities and places for interaction
One of the elements that might explain some of the variation in levels of interaction between groups is the provision of places for people to interact, and meet new people.
Evidence from the Scottish Household Survey shows that, although at a national level people rate their neighbourhoods positively, they are consistently more positive about the ‘people’ elements of neighbourhoods (for example, the help and support from neighbours, the perception of trust and kindness – all with high levels of agreement) than about the places available to meet and interact (see Fig 23).
Fig 23. Proportion of people who agree who feel positively about the people and places in their neighbourhood. Survey respondents are more positive about the ‘people’ elements of neighbourhoods than about the places and spaces available for social interaction.
- I could rely on a neighbour to help 86%
- People are kind to each other 83%
- People can be trusted 78%
- I would help my neighbours 91%
- There are places to meet and socialise 59%
- There are welcoming places to meet new people 53%
(% agreeing with statements, Scottish Household Survey, 2018)
This effect is even more pronounced (see Fig 24) for some groups of the population, including people in socially rented housing, and areas of higher deprivation (as measured by the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation – SIMD), and urban areas. These are also some of the groups with higher levels of experienced loneliness. Increasing the possibilities for people to meet and interact may impact on the opportunities for developing greater social connections, particularly in areas of higher deprivation and more urban settings.
Engagement with decision making bodies
Fig 24. Engagement with local decisions, by groups. The proportion of people who agree there are places to meet up and socialise in their neighbourhood is lower for people in social rented housing, areas of higher deprivation and people living in ‘other’ urban areas.
The Scottish Household Survey contains questions about the means for people to improve and change their neighbourhood. Although evidence shows high levels of voluntary activities (Fig 25) to improve neighbourhoods (58% of people across Scotland said that local people take action to improve their neighbourhood), levels of perceived influence and access to decision making are much lower(just 20% of people said they feel that they are able to influence decisions about their local area). Notably, there are low levels of perceived influence on decision making across all sub-groups of the population.
Even groups with higher levels of voluntary action to improve their neighbourhoods do not perceive themselves to be strongly engaged in official decision making. This is perhaps a surprising finding given other measures that show higher than average levels of social capital for these groups. This suggests there is a need for people to be able to improve their neighbourhood through ‘official’ sources of power and planning as well as voluntary means.
Fig 25. Formal and informal means to improve neighbourhoods, by groups. Although there are different perceived levels of voluntary activities to improve neighbourhoods, there are low levels of perceived influence across all subgroups of the population.