Scottish governments and think tanks over the past two decades have tended to look across the North Sea, rather than the Atlantic, for inspiration. The desire to follow the Nordic model rather than the American one on issues of social and economic inequality has become one of the defining features of Scottish politics compared to the rest of the UK. Since the Scotland Act of 1998, more and more of the powers needed to pursue a more egalitarian social vision have been devolved to the Scottish Government, enabling it to take a different course to its neighbour south of the Border, should it so choose. Given that 2018 is the twentieth anniversary of the Scotland Act, now seems like a timely moment to take stock. Can we see divergent paths emerging with regard to different dimensions of inequality relative to England?
This paper attempts to address this question by looking not only at the trajectories of income inequality (for which there has been no significant change relative to England since Devolution) but also inequalities that arise due to household location. The experience of inequality is driven by a whole range of factors that affect wellbeing over the life course, including housing quality, employment, the quality of the outdoor environment, exposure to crime, and access to amenities. Our approach in this paper is to look at how inequality with respect to these important outcomes has fared in Scotland compared to England. We focus on the relative proximity of poor and non-poor households for each aerial unit (Travel to Work Area) to these various amenities and disamenities. And we look at whether the inequality we observe has changed over time due, for example, to changes in the location of poor vs non-poor households (e.g. because of decentralisation of poverty) or in the geographical pattern of pollution, employment, crime etc. For England, we find relative inequality across a range of variables has declined, including exposure to air pollution, crime, housing quality and access to amenities. However, on average, no change in relative inequality was found in Scotland overall during the same period.