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Injustice on society is reason for poor health, say Scots

12 June 2018

Half of Scots believe that poorer health is a result of an unjust society, according to findings published today by the Scottish Centre for Social Research.

  • Over two-thirds of Scots think people’s health is worse because they are poor

  • Over half would accept tax hikes to improve the population’s health

Half of Scots believe that poorer health is a result of an unjust society, according to findings published today by the Scottish Centre for Social Research.

The report ‘Scottish Social Attitudes - Public Attitudes to Inequality’, commissioned by NHS Health Scotland, reveals the extent to which people are aware of existing health and income inequalities and how views on the potential causes differ by a range of socio-demographic factors such as gender, education, income and area deprivation.

Scottish Social Attitudes (SSA) found that seven in ten (71 per cent) perceive those with more money to be better able to live healthy lives with a similar proportion (72 per cent) feeling that those living in better off areas tend to be healthier than those living in worse off areas. However, despite the majority recognising these health differences, only 48 per cent of people in Scotland register this as a big problem.

When asked about a number of different causes of poorer health, over half of those surveyed (51 per cent) cite injustice in society as a factor while 82 per cent identified not having learned to make healthy choices, and 72 per cent agree that the quality of the house people live in contributes to health differences. Women (56 per cent vs 46 per cent of men), those on the left of the political spectrum (64 per cent vs 10 per cent of those on the right of the political spectrum) and those in the lowest income groups (57- 60 per cent vs 45-53 per cent in the lowest income groups) were all more likely to agree that ‘certain people’s health is worse because of injustice in our society.’

Around two-thirds (67 per cent) see a strong match between lower incomes and injustice in our society with only a minority (17 per cent) resolutely disagreeing. In contrast, 43 per cent say that ‘some people have higher incomes because they work harder’, a view particularly prevalent among male respondents (48 per cent vs 37 per cent of women) and those in the highest income group (49 per cent).

As for the role of government and individuals, six in ten (62 per cent) think that individuals are more responsible than the government for their own health. Yet half of Scots would like government to do more to reduce differences in health between those on high incomes and those on low incomes. The majority (58 per cent) would be willing to pay higher taxes to improve the health of poorer people in Scotland.

Additional key findings include:

  • Those in the highest income group (82 per cent) most likely to think that people living in better off areas tend to be healthier than those living in worse off areas compared with 56 per cent in the lowest income group
  • Four in ten (40 per cent) report that certain people have poorer health because of the way they choose to lead their lives compared with just over three in ten (32 per cent) who said that it is mainly because of the circumstances people have to live in
  • More women (72 per cent) agreed that some people have lower incomes because of injustice in our society than men (61 per cent)
  • Those on the left of the political spectrum (77 per cent) were more than twice as likely as those on the right (37 per cent) to agree that injustice contributes to lower incomes
  • Those aged 40-64 years were most likely to say that the income gap was too large (77 per cent) and those aged 16-29 were the least likely (66 per cent)

Commenting on the research, Susan Reid, Research Director at ScotCen, said:

“Inequalities in health between different regions and different groups of people in Scotland are among the highest in Western Europe. This means that many individuals are prevented from enjoying a high standard of physical and mental health. Today’s findings illustrate that the vast majority of Scots believe that poverty is related to having poorer health and overwhelmingly perceive the income gap as too large."

"Although there are marked differences in attitudes between different social groups when it comes to views on potential causes of these inequalities, we also observe common ground and shared goals; most Scots would like government to focus on improving the status quo and there is considerable support for increasing taxes as part of that."