Progressive Scotland? 5 graphs showing Scotland’s stark and growing health inequalities

Ben Wray

CommonSpace explores newly published Scottish Government data on health inequalities, which includes recent trends.

THE Scottish Government has today [11 December] published new statistics on long-term health inequalities. 

Health inequality is perhaps one of the best ways of assessing how progressive any society is, and the trends in health inequalities shows us whether a society is becoming more or less progressive. 

All of Scottish politics tries to lay claim to the progressive title – but what do the statistics say about how progressive Scotland really is?

Premature deaths

The most economically deprived are four times as likely to die prematurely (before they are 75) than the least deprived. In 1997, premature deaths were three times higher among the most deprived than the least deprived – so in this sense, health inequalities are becoming more severe.

Mental wellbeing

Twenty-four per cent of adults in the most deprived areas have low mental wellbeing, compared to 7 per cent in the least deprived. Again, inequality in mental wellbeing has risen – the current 17 per cent gap between least and most deprived was 15.5 per cent in 2008-09, when the data started to be collected.


Inequality in cancer incidence among those aged under 75 is much less significant than other health inequalities, but as the second graph shows, this does not stop inequality in cancer deaths being significantly higher. This is partly due to the type of cancer induced, with, for instance, lung cancer being much more likely for the least deprived and leading to an especially high mortality rate, but is also driven by screening rates and early detection. Inequality in cancer deaths has also risen substantially since the data series began in 1997.

Mortality rates among younger people 

Inequality in mortality rates among younger people (15-44) is also stark, with the most deprived seven times more likely to die before they are 45 than the least deprived. Once again, inequalities in this respect have increased significantly over time, and is currently at its highest point since the data series began in 1997. This could be driven by factors including suicides, assaults and drug related deaths.

Long term health conditions

The most deprived are twice as likely to have long term health conditions as the least deprived, but inequality has dropped in this respect in recent years, as the graph below shows.

Picture courtesy of Andy Magee