Islands of prosperity: how Scotland’s regions compare on the Humankind Index

Inequality, Poverty in the UK

As the dust settles after this month’s local elections, Oxfam’s UK Poverty Programme in Scotland has assessed how the country’s 32 local authorities have each performed according to the Oxfam Humankind Index.

The Oxfam Humankind Index results put Scotland’s island communities – Shetland, Eilean Siar (Western Isles) and Orkney – at the top of the list, with North Lanarkshire, Glasgow and East Ayrshire at the bottom.

The Oxfam Humankind Index measures prosperity in a far more holistic way than purely economic measures like GDP.  For example, the islands score particularly well on community spirit and the local environment.  An impressive 93% of people in Shetland said they felt part of a strong community.  Rural communities in general seem to have done better than urban areas on these aspects of the Index, which is perhaps unsurprising.

From Oxfam’s work in South Uist, we know that things aren’t perfect on the islands.  Jobs can be scarce, particularly for young people, which has led to significant migration to the mainland.  Climate change threatens the very fabric of the islands themselves. However, a purely economic approach to these problems will not necessarily improve islanders’ lives as measured by the Humankind Index.  A relentless pursuit of economic growth could damage the community spirit and environment that the islanders
value so much.  

As the new councils in these areas begin their work, they should recognise their strong Humankind Index scores as a marker of what needs to be protected as they seek to improve their areas, not as a chance to sit on their laurels.

By contrast, we see North Lanarkshire, Glasgow and East Ayrshire – more traditional zones of material poverty and areas that have undergone considerable deindustrialisation in recent decades – at the bottom of the list.  The Humankind Index clearly marks out areas where local councils can make a difference.  First and foremost, health and housing are at the top of people’s priorities in the Humankind Index.  Taking steps to deal with the so-called “Glasgow Effect” would make a huge difference to the lives of people in the poorest parts of the west of Scotland.  

But the Humankind Index shows that lots of things can make a difference to people’s lives, not just money.  One of the most valuable lessons of the Oxfam Humankind Index is that a wide range of issues impact people’s lives and many of them are inter-connected.  Councillors seeking to improve their consituents’ lives should bear that in mind. And they should also be aware that Oxfam will be tracking changes in the performance of each local authority over the coming years.

Finally, the results don’t follow any party lines.  No single party can claim any particular successes and none can be castigated for consistent failure. As with the Index itself, it’s a complicated picture that requires careful analysis of what’s really helping and hurting our communities.  As unusual coalitions form, politicians from all parties and none should learn to come together and work to serve the people who elected them according to the priorities identified by the Humankind

The benchmarks have been set.  Now it’s time for our new councillors to show they’re paying attention.

Read more

Picture by Ben Hurwitz

Author: Kenny McBride
Archive blog. Originally posted on Oxfam Policy & Practice.