You are on the Natcen site

Click here for Scotcen

natcen map

You are on the Natcen site

Click here for Scotcen

natcen map

Measuring perceptions of unfair treatment in the public services

At the bus stop
Published: January 2010


This project looked at the best ways to measure perceptions of fair treatment by public services.


Key criteria for measuring fair treatment

The literature review identified four categories of criteria for fair treatment:

  • professionalism and respect;
  • honest and adequate information;
  • procedures;
  • outcomes.

In the focus groups, when thinking about fair treatment people mostly emphasised:

  • staff conduct;
  • information, communication and procedures;
  • outcomes and distribution.

We found that a spectrum of different services and resources were identified as being 'public services.' These were not restricted to services funded or provided by the government at national or local levels.

Current sources of data on fair treatment

A number of existing government surveys ask questions relating to fair treatment by public services, but none is fully comprehensive across all aspects of fairness or all types of public service.

Learning points for future survey design

Recommendations for future questionnaire design included:

  • Questions should ask whether respondents have used the service in a given  reference period (such as the last 12 months) to improve understanding of how their perceptions have been formed. Reasons for non-usage should also be examined, in order to establish whether non-usage is due to lack of need or problems with access.
  • Asking more specific questions about the types of problem respondents may have encountered is more useful than providing a general rating of a service. Doing so helps them think more deeply about the issue and encourages them to reflect more on their own experiences. We recommend questions on access, information, staff interactions and communication are all included on top of service specific outcome questions.
  • Questions on unfair treatment should be service-specific rather than about a service area in general. For example, instead of asking about experiences of ‘healthcare’ it is better to ask about experiences of GP surgeries, hospital and dental surgeries separately.  This encourages answers that best reflect respondents’ opinions and generates data that can pinpoint where issues are occurring.


Literature review; set of eight focus groups, existing survey measures review; questionnaire development and 32 cognitive interviews.

Read the report

Read research findings

Download literature review