Scotland a more equal society

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by Russell Bruce

One of the most noticeable features of the sound bites on the response to the riots is the demand for removal of benefits by the ‘lock them up and throw away the key’ brigade and those that claim that the riots were a consequence of an increasingly divided and unequal society. A reasoned investigation seems a long way off.

At the Edinburgh International Book Festival last week Robin Harper attacked Alex Salmond for what he described as his ‘smug comments’ on why the riots did not happen in Scotland. Rather removed from the First Minister’s defence of Scotland’s tourist industry and Salmond’s reference to their being no cause for complacency here.

Harper’s comment only demonstrated his lack of understanding of the differences between the social structure in Scotland compared with England and London in particular. In a telling comment he acknowledged Alex Salmond’s political skills but added that he would have found him very difficult to work with.

I did some work on severe child poverty earlier this year based on a study of children living in severe poverty carried out by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Scotland has the lowest percentage of children classed as living in severe poverty in the UK.  Scotland 9% England 13% Wales 14%.

In the breakdown to Local Authority areas variations emerge. Glasgow comes in at 18% but when we look at London the numbers rocket. Forget Tower Hamlets and Hackney. Yes the numbers are sky high but City of Westminster where we think the streets are paved with gold – well not for the 24% of children living in severe poverty.

The media has been reporting on the rise in unemployment in the UK recorded in the latest statistics released by the Office of National Statistics and there is already an article on this site about Scotland’s stronger employment trends.

I have been looking at the detail and some interesting data emerges. Unemployment in London has risen by 0.5% to 9.5% from the first quarter of 2011. London has the second highest rate of unemployment of the 12 regions/nations of the UK. Only the North East of England is higher at 10% and they have seen some improvement this quarter.

In the current 2nd quarter analysis, April to June 2011 unemployment is 0.3% higher in London than in the corresponding quarter last year while Scotland has seen unemployment drop by 0.7% in this quarter compared with 2010.

The gap between London and Scotland has therefore widened further in Scotland’s favour by 1%. Unemployment in Scotland is 7.7% as it was on the first quarter of 2011.

Drawing a direct correlation between these statistics and the root cause of the riots in England would be simplistic but they do indicate some probability that the dislocation and inequality in England may have been a contributory factor.