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EACEA National Policies Platform


4. Social Inclusion

4.1 General context

Last update: 25 January 2021

LAST MODIFIED ON: 04/11/2017 - 15:13

On this page
  1. Main challenges to social inclusion
  2. Main concepts


Main challenges to social inclusion

UK-wide challenges

The 2018-2019 State of the Nation Report, published by the Social Mobility Commission, assesses the progress that Great Britain has made towards improving social mobility. It highlights that :

  • Inequality is entrenched in Britain, from birth to work
  • Being born privileged means you are likely to remain privileged, whilst being born disadvantaged means you have to overcome barriers to improve you and your children’s social mobility  
  • Urgent action needs to be taken to help close the privilege gap.


Scottish challenges

The 2017 State of the Nation Report, published by the Social Mobility Commission, adopted a new approach to understanding social mobility. It focused on place-based social mobility lottery, to shed light on parts of the country that are social mobility hotspots and coldspots. However, they were unable to perform a similar analysis for Scotland due to data constraints, but nevertheless examined geographical variations in outcomes in Scotland. The report concluded that education and employment outcomes vary across areas in Scotland: 

  • there are large gaps in outcomes between the most deprived and least deprived parts within authority areas;
  • deprived post-industrial areas report lower outcomes, whilst affluent rural areas tend to report higher outcomes. 

A 2018 report, Is Scotland Fairer?, produced by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, finds that progress has been made on equality and human rights issues, but that this progress is slow and not consistent or widespread. The report highlights that: 

  • Educational attainment and of children and young people generally improved, although gaps still persisted
  • Gypsy/Traveller pupils continued to have the lowest educational attainment rates out of all ethnic groups.
  • Rates of exclusion from school remained high for some groups, including Gypsy/Travellers, boys, pupils with additional support needs (ASN), and those living in the most deprived areas.
  • The proportion of young people not in education, employment or training (NEET) did not change over time.
  • Young people were most likely to be unemployed and many were in insecure jobs.
  • There was a fall in earnings and little progress in tackling pay gaps
  • Among the groups of people who were particularly vulnerable to homelessness, were young women, households with children, lone parents and people with at least one support need. 
  • Nearly all measures of poverty showed an increase over time.
  • Disabled people, people with mental health conditions and people from ethnic minority groups were most likely to live in poverty. 

Education Scotland, the national improvement agency for education and lifelong learning, has also identified sectarianism as a challenge to inclusion. Sectarianism was defined in the final report of the Scottish Government's Advisory Group on Tackling Sectarianism as:

‘a mixture of perceptions, attitudes, actions, and structures that involves overlooking, excluding, discriminating against or being abusive or violent towards others on the basis of their perceived Christian denominational background. This perception is always mixed with other factors such as, but not confined to, politics, football allegiance and national identity.’

See the section on 'Promoting the intercultural dialogue among young people' in the 'Participation' chapter for further information.

Furthermore, the Race Equality Framework for Scotland was published in 2016. It identifies that ethnic minorities continue to suffer from inequalities in life outcomes, employment rate, poverty, under-representation in public life, and experience racism on a daily basis. The framework sets out the government’s approach to tackling racism and inequality, and it will run between 2016 to 2030. It complements the Fairer Scotland Action Plan. For more information see section ‘Scope and contents’, under ‘Strategy for the social inclusion of young people’. 

In July 2017, The life chances of young people in Scotland: an evidence review for the First Minister’s Independent Advisor on Poverty and Inequality and report, was published, and focused specifically on the life chances of young people (aged 16 to 29), based upon the recommendations in Shifting the Curve report in 2016. It indicates the current issues facing young Scottish people in the following areas: poverty; wealth and financial capability; housing; employment; education and training; and health and well-being. More specifically,    

  • in 2015/16, the poverty rate for young adults was higher than other adults;
  • there has been a reduction in housing ownership among young people, and a shift toward privately renting or living with parents due to rising house prices, which is exacerbated by low quality, low pay employment and insecure work;
  • young adults are experiencing a structural disadvantage in the labour market in comparison to previous generations; 
  • educational attainment is low for some groups of school leavers;  
  • 16 to 24 year old young people are more likely to self-report having self-harmed.  

Furthermore, the report explains how young people’s life chances are ‘patterned by disadvantage and protected characteristics’, illustrating the intersectionalities of young Scottish people. It outlines the challenges young people are facing according to each characteristics:



  • The gender pay gap - women are more likely to be in low-paid, low quality work; 
  • Economic inactivity rates for young women are higher than men;
  • Young men have higher unemployment rates;
  • Young men are more likely to be NEET (not in education, employment or training) than young women;
  • Young women report lower levels of life satisfaction and wellbeing. 

Living in a deprived area

  • Those who live in more deprived areas are less likely to enter positive destinations than those from less deprived areas; 
  • Young people from the most deprived areas are less likely to go to university than their counterparts; 
  • Young people from the most deprived areas experience worse health and wellbeing issues;
  • Poorer mental health is associated with socioeconomic disadvantage. 


  • Unemployment rates for working age young adults for BAME groups (includes ‘Black/Black British’,  ‘Indian’, ‘Pakistani/Bangladeshi’) are higher than ‘White’ groups; 
  • Ethnic minority people with good qualifications face greater barriers to finding work that matches their qualifications, compared to the majority white population. 
  • Pupils from most ethnic minority groups have higher educational attainment than pupils from ‘White’ groups.


  • Those who are disabled are more likely to be unemployed in comparison to all other young adults, 
  • Disabled adults experience pay gaps compared to those without disabilities; 
  • Disabled adults are more likely to be workless than those without disabilities, even when their qualifications are accounted for;
  • Disabled young adults have a lower rate of participation in education, employment or training and are offered a limited range of opportunities than other young people.

Caring responsibilities

  • Few carers have reported having good health, compared to non-carers. 
  • Young carers are more likely to report having a mental health condition compared to those who are not carers. 

Previously ‘looked after’ or leaving care

  • Evidence indicates young people who have care experience, experience poor outcomes, and at a higher risk of unemployment or fractured employment routes.
  • Looked after young people tend to have lower levels of educational attainment, compared to those who are not looked after, as they typically leave school earlier. 


The 2018-2019 State of the Nation Report highlights the progress made in responding to these challenges in Scotland.  It concludes: 

  • Scotland is becoming more socially mobile, with a person’s socio-economic status less determined by their parents’ socio-economic status. 
  • The likelihood of being in a professional job has narrowed over the past four years between those from a working class and a professional background, from 28 percentage points in 2014 to 23 percentage points. 
  • Child poverty rates, at 24 per cent, are the lowest in Great Britain
  • The Scottish Government has an ambitious aim to reduce child poverty to under 10 per cent by 2030. 



Main concepts

In this chapter, the term 'social inclusion' refers to the process which ensures that people who are at risk of poverty and social exclusion gain the opportunities and resources necessary to participate fully in economic, social and cultural life – and to enjoy a standard of living and well-being that is considered normal in the society in which they live. It also ensures they have a greater participation in decision making which affects their lives and access to their fundamental rights. In this context, social inclusion can be considered as a multi-dimensional concept, which combines various factors, including: income and living standards; the need for educational and decent work opportunities; effective social protection systems; housing; access to good-quality health and other services; and active citizenship.

The terms used to describe policies, initiatives and actions relating to social inclusion have changed over time. To illustrate how they evolved into the concepts and definitions used currently, this section provides a brief policy overview. It is also worth noting that promotion of social inclusion is embedded and interlinked in all areas of policy in Scotland. 

In 1999, two key documents were published. Social Justice: A Scotland where everyone matters, published by the then Scottish Executive (now Scottish Government), shifted the focus slightly from social exclusion, the dominant strand in UK Government thinking in this area at that time, to social inclusion. The strategy outlined five key target groups and associated milestones to achieve by 2020. Two of these target groups involved children and young people:

  • every child matters - giving every child the best possible start in life, regardless of their family background
  • every young person matters - giving every young person the opportunities, skills and support to make a successful transition to working life and active citizenship.

Social Inclusion: Opening the Door to a Better Scotland, also published by the Scottish Executive, aimed to achieve social justice for all, including targeted strategies for the most disadvantaged areas.


Child poverty

Following the UK Government Child Poverty Act (2010), Scottish Ministers were required to publish a Scottish child poverty strategy. The first of these was published in 2011, in line with the Government's Economic Strategy. It pledged to "increase the overall income and the proportion of income received by the three lowest income deciles as a group by 2017". The strategy was based on three principles:

  1. focusing on early intervention and prevention
  2. taking an assets-based approach
  3. ensuring that children are placed at the centre of public agency focus.

The second Child Poverty Strategy for Scotland, published in 2014, renewed the focus on tackling the underlying causes of poverty and aspired to establishing a society in which no child is disadvantaged by poverty. The strategy was published in the same year as the launch of Getting It Right for Every Child (GIRFEC), the Scottish Government's approach to improving outcomes and supporting the wellbeing of children and young people. GIRFEC requires that the needs of children and young people are considered in all areas of public service provision and establishes eight indicators of wellbeing against which public services can track the quality of life of a particular child or young person.

The Child Poverty (Scotland) Act was passed in December 2017, a response to the 2016 Fairer Scotland Action Plan. It introduces a statutory duty for the Scottish Government to produce targets to reduce the number of children experiencing the effects of poverty by 2030. It will require the Scottish Government to publish a three-year child poverty delivery plan every five years and annual reports to provide transparency regarding the progress it has made on the targets. The first delivery plan, Every child, every chance: The Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan 2018-22, was published in March 2018 (see section ‘Revisions/Updates’, under article ‘Strategy for the social inclusion of young people’).


UK context

Devolution has given the Scottish Government certain powers and responsibilities for a wide range of matters (see the article entitled 'Historical Development' in the Eurydice's Network's description of the Scottish education system for details of devolution arrangements). However, the ambitions set out in the Westminster government's policies relating to social inclusion apply across the United Kingdom and may be of interest. They are set out in the equivalent England article.