Are Scotland's poorest people hard to reach?

A report by Heriot-Watt University for the Equality and Human Rights Commission has revealed how policies which aim to tackle poverty in the most deprived areas don't always benefit the poorest people, particularly those in minority communities.

The research showed that there is not always a link between the poorest places and the poorest people. While many of those experiencing the greatest poverty do live in the poorest areas, some do not. This means that policies which target particular areas, or 'place based policies', do not always benefit everyone equally.

Dr Peter Matthews, lecturer at School of the Built Environment at Heriot-Watt University and Principal author of the report, said, "Moving things forward, there is clearly a need for Equality Impact Assessments to be much more embedded within the policy making processes in line with statutory obligations in the Equality Act 2010. This needs to run through the process of developing single outcome agreements, however they develop in future, and in devising community plans for individual neighbourhoods. Place based policies need to address meeting the National Outcomes on equality throughout the different neighbourhoods in Scotland."

Geography and Group Identity approaches

The research reviewed previous approaches in Scotland such as Social Inclusion Partnerships as well as evidence from England and elsewhere. It found that the data was often so poor that no-one could say with any confidence that anti-poverty programmes actually benefitted disabled people, ethnic minorities or lone parents in the same way that they benefited other local residents.

For example, while Bangladeshi, African, Caribbean and White Irish groups experience high rates of poverty, and live in the most deprived neighbourhoods in high numbers, other groups have a different experience - new migrants, who may face financial and social exclusion due to racism, are frequently concentrated within poor quality housing, but not necessarily in the most economically deprived areas.

While place based policies can be an appropriate response to deprivation, they often fail to encompass issues of equality for groups who either live outside the most deprived areas, or who do live in areas of deprivation but nevertheless experience different social problems and barriers. The report suggests that an approach which is based as much on group identity as geography could improve outcomes more equally.

Equalities groups living in poverty that may be invisible to place based policies include those of race, religion, gender (especially lone parents), LGBT, and even age (for example pensioner poverty).

Highlights of the report

The report found that:

  • While place based policies have a potentially positive impact on some of the poorest groups, they are not nuanced enough for equality groups.  
  • While poverty is one of the biggest challenges we face, focussing on a geographical area means that many people and groups slip through the net.  
  • Where equalities groups do live in the poorest areas, they do not always benefit from place based policies because the reasons for their poverty may differ from those around them - for example a disabled person may need specific support with transport to enable them to work. If this specific problem isn't addressed they face exclusion from the labour market  
  • Many of the poorest people who belong to equalities groups do not live in the poorest urban areas, and there is a danger that these 'hard to reach' groups become the 'easy to ignore'.  
  • Where place based policies do not reach the poorest people, the problems associated with poverty - physical and mental ill health, unemployment etc - are still not being tackled.

The report concludes that place based policies will not achieve their aims unless they embrace issues of equality, and that a strand based approach could therefore improve outcomes more equally.

What we need is a more nuanced approach which takes into account the fact that some of our poorest people don't live in our poorest areas

Kaliani Lyle, Equality & Human Rights Commission Scotland Commissioner

Kaliani Lyle, Equality & Human Rights Commission Scotland Commissioner, said, "Much of the Governments strategy to tackle the scourge of poverty in Scotland is a concentration on the poorest 15% of areas. We do not dispute that this is necessary or appropriate, but we are concerned that an overreliance on place may discriminate against those people in poverty who don't happen to live in those areas. Our research shows that many equalities groups - disabled people, minority ethnic groups, lone parents, older people - may experience high levels of poverty but won't necessarily benefit from the Governments approach because there is no "flex" built in to accommodate their needs. What we need is a more nuanced approach which takes into account the fact that some of our poorest people don't live in our poorest areas."