How Fair is North East Scotland?

The 2021 edition has now been released, and the full text (PDF) is available here. Please see below for a summary.

Executive Summary

It has been widely acknowledged that one consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic has been the reversal of recent equality gains, especially for marginalised groups like ethnic minority communities (including European ethnic minorities). The full extent is still to be measured, and other contextual factors – like Brexit – must also be considered. The evidence gathered in this report gives an overview of the situation in North East Scotland – Aberdeen City, Aberdeenshire and Moray (the Grampian region). We also highlight where more research is necessary to better assess and take action to prevent a further deepening of inequalities as the recovery develops.

Ethnic minorities have suffered worse job losses than the rest of the population in 2020-21, with Grampian’s non-UK-born ethnic minorities hardest-hit. Existing challenges have been exacerbated by the pandemic, especially for those in ‘lower skill’ occupations. Compared with the national average, Grampian has shown higher employment levels for ethnic minorities over the past decade, but this remains lower than for Scottish/British people. The figure for Africans is particularly low, despite a high level of education and skills in this group. ‘Non-white’ ethnic minorities start businesses at higher rates than the rest of the population, but remain under-represented in business leadership.

Problems in this area are most prevalent in deprived areas, but overall, ethnic minorities in Grampian live with less secure tenure than the Scottish/British population, and levels of over-crowding are noteworthy. There are consistent gaps in data on homelessness and ethnicity at a local level, and more research is required to get a clearer picture.

With recent changes in the recording of pupils’ ethnicity data, current statistics have become less meaningful in highlighting disparities and areas for improvement. However, ethnic minority pupils in Grampian have routinely achieved higher attainment than those from a Scottish/British background. Schools are one of the most important points of contact for newcomers’ integration, as well as a key site for educational work around equality. The consequences of pandemic-related disruption remain to be seen, but many ethnic minority families face the interconnected challenges of low-wage or insecure employment, overcrowding, insecure tenancy, poverty, and digital exclusion.

There is limited quantitative evidence to understand health outcomes of ethnic minorities, as ethnicity is not consistently recorded by health services. The evidence that does exist suggests that Grampian’s poorest areas – in terms of health outcomes – are home to higher than average proportions of ethnic minorities. Research also suggests that ethnic minorities have a lower level of satisfaction with health services, arising from language barriers and differences between how healthcare works in Scotland and other countries. Mental health is a key concern among ethnic minority communities, and digital exclusion has become a key issue during Covid-19.

Bridges, Bonds and Links
It is difficult to find existing data to build a clear picture of the social bridges, bonds and links that support integration across diverse communities. More research is required in this area, especially in light of Brexit and Covid-19. What is available shows a consistently high proportion of ethnic minorities who feel that North East Scotland is a welcoming place, and who feel they are part of their local communities. A decrease in this sentiment has taken place over the last few years, which is likely to be associated with the implementation of Brexit.

Language and Cultural Knowledge
Evidence highlights the importance of English language learning for successful integration. Qualitative research, mainly focussed on regeneration areas in Aberdeen City and Shire, and among Syrian New Scots, highlights challenges in accessing English classes, as well as barriers that arise when English learning has stalled. A key issue is the necessity to adapt certain aspects of language classes to facilitate access and improve the learning process.

Safety and Stability
Evidence in this area reflects the ongoing pervasiveness of racism and xenophobia. In 2020, the number of reported prejudice and hate crime incidents in Grampian reached its highest level in the last six years, with the majority of these incidents related to race/ethnicity. The figures are likely to be much higher due to under-reporting. Covid-19 led to a rise in prejudice against Chinese and East Asian communities, along with an increase in gender-based abuse.

Rights and Citizenship
The majority of applications to the EU Settlement Scheme in Grampian were accepted. However, financial costs of future citizenship applications are a significant worry for many EU nationals. While more research in this area is necessary, available evidence shows that ethnic minorities have lower rates of participation in elections and other civic activities. Additionally, if passed, the new Nationality and Borders Bill is likely to more deeply entrench inequalities for refugees, asylum seekers and migrants.

Much of the work in the coming years will be shaped by challenges from Brexit, Covid-19 and other global issues like climate change and conflict-driven migration, especially in terms of providing support for the most vulnerable people in our communities. While Covid-19 highlighted (and often intensified) inequalities around ethnicity, gender, disability and social class, these inequalities are not new. As we move into recovery, there is an opportunity to rethink and reshape how things are done, to create a fairer society for everyone.