New research highlights support systems breakdown



Almost 200,000 adults in Scotland experience at least one form of extreme disadvantage each year, including homelessness, substance dependency and offending*, new research authored by Heriot-Watt University has found.

When additional disadvantages such as mental ill-health and domestic violence are considered, the numbers affected more than double to nearly 450,000 people each year.

Released today, Hard Edges Scotland, commissioned by Lankelly Chase and The Robertson Trust and written by The Institute for Social Policy, Housing, Equalities Research (I-SPHERE), highlights the complexity of the lives of people facing multiple disadvantage¹ north of the border.

Severe and multiple disadvantage is a serious problem impacting on the lives of thousands of people across the country, but the sheer scale of the issue in Glasgow and other local authorities with high rates of poverty deserves to be recognised in both policy and resource terms.

Professor Suzanne Fitzpatrick, Director of I-SPHERE at Heriot-Watt University

The research also details the challenges that charitable services and the public sector are facing. In particular, the report illustrates the mismatch between the multiple disadvantages people face, and the fact that services are often set up to address 'single issues'².

Hard Edges Scotland identifies that people are often not able to access services until they have reached crisis point. It also highlights the necessity for services to become more consistent and tailored to each person, taking trauma and underlying causes such as poverty and childhood experience into consideration, to address the current gaps which are locking people in extreme disadvantage.

The pervasive nature of multiple disadvantage can affect whole families and communities, and the research alerts the urgent need to find different ways to address these problems to ensure they are not inherited by future generations.

Coinciding with the launch of Hard Edges Scotland, £80,000 is being made available to communities and organisations across Scotland to encourage new conversations about severe and multiple disadvantage. This is a chance for people to connect and reflect on what the findings are telling them about inequality, service responses and policy.

The fund will seek to encourage often unheard and missing voices from current discussions to have their say into how future support might look. Grants of up to £3,000 each will be given to facilitate new conversations in creative ways, including interactive events and workshops.

Research key findings:

Each year in Scotland:

  • 5,700 adults experience three 'core' forms of severe and multiple disadvantage (homelessness, offending and substance dependency)
  • 28,800 experience two out of these three
  • 156,700 experience one of these three
  • Higher rates of extreme disadvantage are found in urban compared to rural areas
  • Glasgow, West Dunbartonshire, Clackmannanshire, Dundee, North Ayrshire and Aberdeen City show high prevalence of people experiencing 'core' forms of severe and multiple disadvantage
  • Affluent, suburban towns and the Highlands and Islands have lower rates.

Martin Boyle, 49, from Glasgow is a volunteer at the Glasgow Homelessness Network and has lived experience of severe and multiple disadvantage: “I was being bullied at school and confronted with even more trauma when I got home. I hated secondary school, I didn't know how to socialise and ended up isolating myself - which became my survival instinct. It started me down the path towards all sorts of issues such as addiction, violence and homelessness – my life was complete chaos. It was a really deep, dark time.”

“I wanted to be involved in Hard Edges Scotland because of my lived experience. I think all services should offer a peer-support element, to break down barriers for people with lived experience by offering them someone to talk to who has been through the same thing. The biggest thing is being listened to and breaking down barriers to earn trust; a lot of people are afraid to be honest. Some of the services are like prison in a way, you feel isolated from being passed around so much.”

Alice Evans, Deputy Chief Executive of Lankelly Chase said: “These findings tell the story of life as it is now for people facing extreme disadvantage across Scotland. With one in every 28 people in the country experiencing at least one form of severe disadvantage, Hard Edges Scotland asks us all to question the role we're playing in allowing this to continue.

“The response required is bigger than any one individual or organisation. The solutions don't lie in the research, but in communities across Scotland. To support this, we want to connect discussions across communities, sectors, disciplines, hierarchies and locations. This is why we are offering grants of up to £3,000 to encourage as many people as possible to have new conversations about what needs to change to address severe and multiple disadvantage.”

Christine Walker, Head of Social Impact, The Robertson Trust, said: “These findings resonate with much of what The Robertson Trust has seen emerge around the routes into severe and multiple disadvantage from our work in Criminal Justice and, more recently, our early intervention projects with young people and women.

“We were particularly interested to see education emerge as a central theme when looking at missed opportunities, as school-based preventative services has become a key area of interest for the Trust in recent years. 

“While Hard Edges Scotland does not attempt to provide answers, it does highlight the opportunities and need to engage in conversations which can lead to system and structural change. We are using Hard Edges Scotland internally to inform our own strategy renewal and would encourage as many others as possible to consider how the findings can inform their own work.”

Professor Suzanne Fitzpatrick, Director of I-SPHERE at Heriot-Watt University, led the research. She said: “Severe and multiple disadvantage is a serious problem impacting on the lives of thousands of people across the country, but the sheer scale of the issue in Glasgow and other local authorities with high rates of poverty deserves to be recognised in both policy and resource terms.

“Many of the people directly affected are living miserable and stressful lives, constantly in 'survival mode', because violence, trauma and threats play such a pervasive role in their everyday experiences. Having no physical or psychological 'safe space' takes a terrible toll on people's well-being and quality of life and addressing this distressing reality must be core to policy and service responses”. 

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*homelessness, substance misuse and offending are the three 'core' listed disadvantages focused on in the context of this study.

¹ Severe and multiple disadvantage refers to a cluster of social harms including alcohol and substance dependency, mental ill-health, homelessness, domestic abuse and offending behaviours, which often intersect with poverty, to cause a lasting, detrimental effect on people's lives.

² Single service issues tackle each form of disadvantage in isolation.