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Why small area statistics are important: The incidence of disabled older people in remote small towns in Scotland

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It is easy to think of socio-economic difficulties and vulnerability in Scotland as being urban issues. The fact that life expectancy in Glasgow is shorter than anywhere else in the UKhas been well documented, and Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee are known to contain over half of Scotland’s most deprived areas. However, rural areas also have residents who are vulnerable and in need of support. For example, recent work by myself and colleagues has found that Scotland’s small and isolated towns have disproportionately high concentrations of older people with disabilities, who are potentially vulnerable. When placed in the context of issues facing rural Scotland, this presents a potential challenge for policy makers.

Age and disability are attributes of people which are legally protected from discrimination, and are therefore particularly important to understand. In this blog, we assess the spatial distribution of older disabled people using two indicators: claimants of Attendance Allowance (a benefit paid to those aged 65 or over who are disabled to the extent they require care, paid to about 3% of Scotland’s population) and the population aged 65 or over with a limiting long-term health problem or disability (about 9% of the population). We obtained data from the now-defunct Scottish Neighbourhood Statistics website and the 2011 Census. We assessed the spatial distribution of older, disabled people by dividing Scotland’s population into eight groups of differing remoteness, based on the Scottish Government’s urban-rural classification. In this blog, I present figures for urban areas and remote and very remote small towns, although a forthcoming report will contain data on all areas. Our exploration of these issues was part of a wider programme of work funded by the Scottish Government RESAS 2011-16 Strategic Research Programme, which has also contributed funding to work on socio-economic development.

Image showing percentage of population claiming attendance allowance

We compared the number of older and disabled people with the ‘expected’ number based on total population size, and the proportion of people who are both older and disabled within Scotland. The graphs shown present simple percentage figures. In large urban areas, in 2012, some 63,155 people claimed Attendance Allowance.  This is a lot of people, but the graph above shows that the proportion of the population of large urban areas claiming Attendance Allowance was fairly close to the proportion for Scotland as a whole. The number of claimants in both large and ‘other’ urban areas was close to expected. By contrast, while the number of claimants in isolated small towns was comparatively small (4,545 in remote small towns, 2,530 in very remote small towns), these are larger populations than would be expected based on the total population of these regions. The proportion of the population in remote/very remote small towns claiming Attendance Allowance was above the Scottish percentage (Figure 1), and the number of claimants in very remote small towns was 25% higher than expected (23% higher in remote small towns). A similar pattern occurred when investigating the locations of older residents with a limiting condition/disability.  In both types of isolated small towns, older residents with a limiting condition were over-represented. In remote small towns, while the absolute number of these residents was small (14,931, compared with 175,744 in large urban areas), this is about 24% larger than would be expected.

Image showing percentage of population who are aged 65 or over and with a limiting condition

The fact that isolated small towns in Scotland have particularly high concentrations of older disabled residents should be acknowledged. Addressing vulnerability in these locations may be particularly challenging. By definition, these areas are remote, and so many small towns will be some distance from important medical and care facilities.  Furthermore, these demographic characteristics may negatively affect the resilience of communities. In addition, remote small towns have lower average socio-economic performance than accessible small towns and rural areas. The issues facing older residents with disabilities in remote small towns need careful consideration, alongside continued monitoring and analysis of population statistics.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog post are the views of the author(s), and not an official position of the institute or funder.



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Printed from /blog/segs/small_area_statistics on 22/02/24 12:01:21 AM

The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.