It was found that Social classes I and II were more likely to consume healthy foods with approximately half of all men and women within these classes eating green vegetables at least 5 times a week, compared with only one third of individuals in classes IV and V. Moreover the survey revealed that classes IV and V tended to eat fried fatty foods at least twice a week and were more likely to add sweeteners to hot drinks. The survey also demonstrated that there were broad disparities in eating habits between children in different social groups.13
As a result of such findings The Scottish Executive appointed its first food and health co-ordinator in a bid to improve the poor diet of the Scottish people. Various other new measures were also put in place including free fruit for children and the expansion of school breakfast clubs. Consequently it was revealed that in the 3 year period between 1995 and 1998 there was an increase of 6% in fruit consumption and a slight fall in early deaths from heart failure, which is often associated with a poor diet.
The Scottish executive has also invested huge amounts of money into an advertising campaign aimed at promoting healthy lifestyles. These include introduction of health promotion leaflets and television advertisements. The adverts deal with issues central to Scottish health problems. They advise individuals on the dangers of smoking and smoking related diseases as well as suggesting alternative physical activities such as walking and swimming.14
The unhealthy lifestyles many Scottish people lead is not always through choice but rather as a result of their socio-economic circumstances. Financial constraints restrict many individuals in their choice of foods, limiting their access to nutritious foods and consequently denying them an adequate diet, with the cheaper option more often than not, being the less healthy one. This limited access to good quality foods can result in higher rates of occurrence of diet related illness.15 Individuals on low incomes are also more likely to be living in substandard housing and therefore encounter more hazardous living conditions, which have been proven to be detrimental to health. The effects of unhealthy living are evident in the health disparities, which exist between the upper and lower classes within Scottish society. Social class V has the greatest prevalence of cardiovascular disorders. In 1998 just over 30% of men and approximately 28% of women suffering from such disorders were found to be in social class V.16
Whilst there is an abundance of evidence focusing on the Scottish nation’s health problems, there is by contrast an extremely limited amount of information available on the successful improvements, which have been made by the government. This may be an indication of the fact that there have been only moderate rates of progress. However, a major and well-publicised achievement of the Scottish Office was the establishment of the Health Education board for Scotland (HEBS). This key initiative was introduced in Scotland on the 1st of April 1991. The organisation differed from previous health education groups in that it collaborated and liased with other government health agencies.
They endeavoured to reduce health inequalities, by working together to ensure maximum effort is administered into reducing the poor state of the nation’s health.17 Furthermore, another successful contribution has been the institution of a health-monitoring scheme similar to that of the health survey employed by England. The first Scottish Health Survey was carried out in 1995, with the aim being for subsequent surveys to be repeated every three years.18 However, despite the fact that three surveys have already been completed, information and data is only available on the 1995 and 1998 surveys. The findings for the 2001 survey will not be accessible until 2005, thus causing limitations on identifying patterns and trends over recent times, and consequently making it difficult to formulate any clear-cut conclusions.
The Scottish Executive has committed itself to the crucial issues of eradicating poverty and improving the standard of health in Scotland for all individuals regardless of their class background. The Executive’s strong stance on tackling poverty and health inequalities is evident in a statement made in 1998 by the Secretary of State for Scotland. He firmly believes “that Scotland need not remain trapped at the bottom of the health league”.19 The Scottish Labour Government maintains that new modern methods will have to be employed if Scotland wants to successfully combat poverty and health inequalities. They aim to tackle the fundamental root factors influencing the Nation’s health deficiencies. Moreover the Government is working towards creating a society free of class inequalities where all individuals will have equal access to ‘basic social needs’. 20
To conclude, this essay has shown that there is a wide range of evidence to support the fact that social inequalities in Scotland have been and continue to be very much a strong feature of Scottish society. It was also shown that Scotland remains a far unhealthier nation than England and Wales and many other Western countries. In addition, this essay has highlighted the various strategies implemented by the Government in an attempt to reduce such health disparities. Moreover, the extent to which these methods were successful in bridging the health divide between the upper and lower social classes in Scotland was examined.
It was found that, despite the Government’s strong committal to reducing health inequalities, progress has been severely limited resulting in only minor improvements being made throughout the years. Social inequalities are still prevalent in contemporary Scotland, hence the reason why the Labour Government includes social inequalities as a key concern in its most recent manifesto. The priority given to this problem is an indication of the Government’s grave concern at the ongoing severity and existence of a widening divide between the richer and poorer classes in Scottish society.
Alcock, P. (1993) Understanding Poverty (London: The Macmillan Press Limited)
Brown, G. and Cook, R. (1983) Scotland: The Real Divide, Poverty and Deprivation In Scotland (Edinburgh: Mainstream Publishing Company Limited)
Brown, U; Alvey, S; Knops, A; Long, G; Sawers, C. and Scott, G. (1999) Poverty In Scotland (Glasgow: Caledonian University)
Carstairs, V. and Morris, R. (1991) Deprivation and Health in Scotland (Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press)
Devine, T. M. and Finlay, R. J. (1996) Scotland in the 20th Century (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press)
Dickson, A. and Treble, J. H. (1992) People and Society In Scotland Volume 3, 1914-1990 (Edinburgh: John Donald Publishers Limited)