Scots want a more equal Scotland, and a large majority support deeper action to deliver it, new poll reveals

Research released as Oxfam invokes spirit of Burns in new campaign backed by folk singer Sheena Wellington

People in Scotland dramatically under-estimate levels of wealth inequality and support stronger political action to narrow the gap, according to new research by Oxfam Scotland.

Released on Burns Day, the survey coincides with the launch of a new campaign film featuring Burn’s iconic song about inequality ‘A Man’s A Man For A’ That’ – performed by folk singer Sheena Wellington at the opening of the Parliament in May 1999.

The polling, carried out for the charity as part of its Even It Up campaign, found:

  • Asked to pick from five different wealth distributions, 79% of respondents favour wealth being distributed more equally than it currently is in Scotland (including incomes, savings, money, assets etc), with 53% supporting a much fairer distribution.
  • 63% said politicians in Scotland should do more to address economic inequality, with 22% saying they are doing all they reasonably could or should, and 15% answering ‘don’t know’.
  • Respondents dramatically over-estimated the proportion of wealth held by Scotland’s poorest 20%, with an average answer of 10% – the real figure is less than 1%.

Jamie Livingstone, Head of Oxfam Scotland, said: “At a time when nearly one in five people in Scotland live in poverty, it is encouraging to see such support for more action to reduce economic inequality in Scotland.

“We agree, because we are increasingly aware of the barrier extreme inequality creates to tackling poverty. Not all political power rests in Scotland, but the Scottish Parliament can do more and this poll suggests Scots back a much more even distribution of wealth.”

Today’s research was released as Oxfam Scotland invoked the spirit of poet Robert Burns in a film launching its new campaign. Oxfam is asking Scots to show their support for the Even It Up policies by writing to the party leaders of those parties currently represented at the Scottish Parliament – this can be accessed here.

Folk singer Sheena Wellington, featured in the film, said: “It’s completely appropriate that Oxfam Scotland is launching this campaign with the words of Robert Burns. His belief in the fundamental equality of every human being shines through in his work – and especially in A Man’s A Man.

“I wish Oxfam all the very best with the Even It Up campaign, and hope that the Scottish Parliament can play its part in moving to a fairer Scotland in a fairer world, where people’s chances in life aren’t blighted by poverty and extreme inequality.” 

In October, Oxfam Scotland released the report, “Even It Up: Scotland’s Role in Tackling Poverty by Reducing Inequality at Home and Abroad” outlining a series of policy measures the Scottish Parliament can take to reduce poverty and inequality in Scotland, whilst also supporting sustainable development around the world.

Oxfam campaigners will today (Mon 25 January) gather outside the Scottish Parliament to build a five-foot high policy wall highlighting the recommendations.

Domestically, these include: establishing a stretching target to reduce economic inequality based on the views of the people of Scotland; creating an Inequality Commission to identify how devolved powers can be used to deliver it; introducing minimum standards for decent work; and using devolved powers to ensure food insecurity falls year-on-year.

Internationally, the paper calls for the value of the International Development Fund to be restored and maintained after a six year cash-terms freeze; the creation of an International Emergency Fund to bring greater predictability to crisis funding; and extended investment in a more globally-aware population through Global Citizenship Education.

It comes just days after Oxfam highlighted the scale of global inequality to coincide with the World Economic Forum in Davos. New analysis showed just 62 people now own as much wealth as the poorest half of the world’s population – a figure that has fallen from 388 just five years ago.

Livingstone added: “Globally, we have made huge progress in reducing extreme poverty – in just 15 years it been halved, and in 15 more, we can end it for good.

“However, extreme and widening inequality is not only a barrier to achieving that goal, but also threatens to undo the good work that we’ve done together.”