Understanding Inequalities

Lead Research Organisation: University of Edinburgh
Department Name: Sch of Law


Governments across the world have become increasingly aware of the social and economic problems caused by inequality. It's not just income inequality that is cause for concern but how different aspects of inequality-in health, education, employment and crime-combine to impoverish particular groups, and deepen divisions in society. For certain types of inequality, Scotland fares worse than comparable countries, particularly with respect to suicide, homicide, overcrowding and children living in poverty. As a result, the Scottish Government has launched a national strategy to create a 'Fairer Scotland'. For this initiative to be successful, however, it needs to have solid evidence which is based on a well-informed understanding of how the different dimensions of inequality interact and change over time. Our goal in this project is to achieve a step change in the quality and usefulness of the evidence base in Scotland by developing world-leading advances in how the multi-dimensional nature of inequality is understood. Working closely with policy makers at local and national level, we aim to support, guide and inform government policies with a view to achieving a genuine reduction in social inequalities.

Our project is called AMMISS: Analysing Multi-Dimensional and Multi-Scale Inequalities in Scottish Society. It represents an ambitious and innovative research programme that will explore the causes and consequences of social inequalities in Scottish society in a much deeper and more joined-up way than has been achieved before. It is 'multi-dimensional' because we will explore multiple forms of inequality (e.g. poor health, low educational achievement, exposure to crime, failure to access the labour market, poor social mobility). Developing cutting-edge analysis we shall help policy makers understand how these different dimensions interact to affect life chances. It is 'multi-scale' because looking at inequality for a single level of geography or social unit can lead to a distorted understanding of inequality. So it is particularly important that we understand how inequalities impact at different levels both spatially (e.g. communities and cities) and socially (e.g. individuals and families). Our novel approach will allow us to analyse the causes and effects of multi-dimensional and multi-scale inequalities in a truly joined-up way, taking full advantage of Scotland's world-class administrative and survey data.

AMMISS has two main themes. First, we will explore the way in which the neighbourhoods impact on how people experience inequalities and how changing patterns of poverty in Scottish cities impact on those experiences; for example, by affecting access to the labour market and exposure to crime. We will also examine how changing ethnic mix affects educational achievement and experiences of victimisation. Second, we will investigate how inequality impacts individuals over the course of their lives; for example, how experiences in early childhood affect social inequalities experienced later in life. We will also explore why some 'high risk' people and neighbourhoods remain 'resilient' to social inequalities, achieving positive outcomes against the odds.

To make sense of such a broad range of issues we have brought together an impressive group of internationally recognised experts from various different areas of research. This will allow us to develop the innovative and insightful research needed to tackle inequality. Working closely with a range of organisations across Scotland, including central and local government and charities, will provide many opportunities for innovation and ensure that our work is relevant and useful for achieving a fairer society. Our ambition is to help those in positions of influence achieve real change. By making Scotland an exemplar for inequalities research, our work has the potential to influence and inspire policies to reduce social inequality around the world.

Planned Impact

Our research will make a broad contribution to policy making, practice and service delivery. We have letters of support to work collaboratively with us from several organisations: Scottish Government, Scottish Parliament, Glasgow City Council and the Poverty Leadership Panel, Inspiring Scotland and Link Up, the Improvement Service, Oxfam Scotland, the Equalities and Human Rights Commission Scotland, and South Yorkshire Police. This group of 'partner stakeholders' will steer the direction of the research, ensuring it speaks to current policy priorities and is of value in operational planning. We plan to expand this group as we develop our research.

Beneficiaries will include strategic policy makers (Chief Executives, MSPs and senior officials) who develop national policy (e.g. Scottish Government's Building Safer Communities Programme, Creating a Fairer Scotland Project and Scottish Parliament Equal Opportunities Committee). It will also include policy makers, practitioners and community groups that develop local policy or deal with operational matters and service delivery, such as: central and local government departments (e.g. education, justice, communities, housing, social justice & environment); public sector bodies and Executive Agencies (e.g. the Scottish Qualifications Agency, Police Scotland, NHS Health Scotland, Education Scotland); communities of practice (e.g. police, teachers, social workers, GPs); private sector organisations delivering public services (e.g. criminal justice, health, child care); and third sector/faith groups/NGOs (e.g. Church of Scotland, Victim Support Scotland, and Citizens Advice Scotland).

Our research will align with Scottish policy priorities at national (e.g. the Fairer Scotland agenda) and local (e.g. Local Outcomes Improvement Plans) level. Mindful of financial constraints, we aim to help stakeholders identify effective and sustainable interventions and preventive strategies to tackle social inequalities that can be developed through joined up public, private and third sector working. This will help Local Authorities to support strategic decision-making at regional, local and neighbourhood levels; and practitioner groups (e.g. policing, welfare, housing) and third sector organisations to develop more efficient and effective joined-up service delivery. The general public will benefit through improvements in more efficient and targeted service delivery, and the development of more innovative, person-centred solutions to the problems of inequality.

The research will benefit stakeholders beyond Scotland. We have negotiated access to crime data with South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire and Greater Manchester police, and Manchester City Council has offered us new data and is keen to apply AMMISS research to local social/policy analysis. We will utilise our connections with UK government departments (e.g. Communities and Local Government & Work and Pensions) and Ireland (e.g. Education and Skills; Housing, Planning, CLG; and Justice and Equality. We will seek to expand our reach to other local authorities and explore further opportunities for data access and extend the comparative value of the research. We will translate the value of our research from the Scottish to the wider UK context by speaking to similar policy agendas.

We have several international networks, including the government of Hebei Province in China (73 million inhabitants) which is keen to apply our methods in the Chinese context and provide evidence-based policy advice to the Hebei government (see letter of support). We will work with the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights to disseminate our research across relevant European policy networks. We have a new partnership with six Latin American countries, led by the Government of Chile and UNICEF, through which we aim to contribute to informing international policy development aimed at increasing equality in social justice, security and welfare for children.


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