Scotland’s communities: divided by money

The Scottish Household Survey has just been published. This data provides the most detailed account of the demographic make-up of Scotland’s communities, and how it has changed over time. It also provides information on people’s views and beliefs on a number of issues, from climate change to religious belonging. Here, we will focus on what the […]

The Scottish Household Survey has just been published. This data provides the most detailed account of the demographic make-up of Scotland’s communities, and how it has changed over time. It also provides information on people’s views and beliefs on a number of issues, from climate change to religious belonging. Here, we will focus on what the SHS shows about the growth in inequality between communities. 

Social housing is now almost exclusively the domain of the 20 per cent most deprived areas in Scotland, with just two per cent of social houses based outside of those areas. Things didn’t always used to be this way. In the 1970s, council housing tenants came from all sections of society. It would not be uncommon to find doctors living next to refuse collectors. In 1979, 20 per cent of UK households in the top 10 per cent of income earners lived in what was then called council housing. One in five council houses could be described as being occupied by a high income earner.

The growth in the private housing market since the 1980s has divided housing communities by income, a development that profoundly shapes social experience. For instance, the gap between those in the 20 per cent most deprived areas and 20 per cent least deprived who see drugs misuse as a problem in their community has grown to ten times (30 per cent versus 3 per cent). Disability is now broadly divided by housing demographics: 15 per cent of adults who live in social housing are permanently sick or disabled, compared to 3 per cent in private housing and 1 per cent in owner-occupied.
Those in the most deprived communities are more than twice as likely as those in the least deprived to be living with limiting mental health conditions (33 per cent versus 15 per cent).

Housing communities are also increasingly divided by age, with those over 60 now 16 per cent less likely to be in social housing than a decade ago. Unsurprisingly, it’s younger people who are struggling for financial security, with just 34 per cent of 16-39 year old’s having savings, compared to 77 per cent of over 60’s. 

Inequalities of access are also important. While the gap in internet access between most and least deprived areas has decreased significantly over the past 15 years, rising internet access among the most deprived has flattened out over the last three years at 82 per cent, while among the least deprived it has continued to grow (to 96 per cent). Everyone now accepts in the pandemic age that the internet is an essential utility, but nearly one in five households in the poorest areas still do not have access.

Participation in sports is another area where access is clearly an issue. While the number of people who participated in recreational walking rose by 14 per cent since 2009 in the most deprived areas, the number of people active in other sports fell by one per cent. The cost and distance to reach leisure centres is surely part of the issue here.

The virtual disappearance of mixed income communities in Scotland is not an issue that makes the headlines, but it is a highly significant change in the social character of the country. When communities become divided by income, we also become divided in multiple other ways, which are often hidden from public debate, another domain which is largely the preserve of the 20 per cent least deprived. Those with incomes over £40,000 per year in the UK are three to four times as likely to be Twitter users, while those earning under £12.5k are 50 per cent less likely to be on the social media site. Newspaper columnists are largely politicians, lobbyists and seasoned journalists. We are increasingly segregated by money as a society: that is a division we will all eventually pay a price for. 

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