Profiling Severe and Multiple Disadvantage in Scotland

6th June 2018, words by Christine Walker

Our 2015 report Hard Edges was an important step for us, clearly making the case that problems don’t exist in isolation. In partnership with the Robertson Trust and working again with the team at Heriot-Watt University, we have commissioned a new iteration of the work looking at Scotland. The report will be published before the end of the year. The different time, data sets, political context and a much stronger focus on qualitative methods make it a different beast from the 2015 report. We expect it to go beyond multiplicity of needs to describe complex lives and complex relationships. In the context of Scotland’s progressive social policy, it may also sound a warning about the risk of people being left behind.

Here Christine Walker, Head of Innovation and Learning at the Robertson Trust talks about their involvement in the work:



The Robertson Trust is the largest independent funder in Scotland. We provide traditional grant funding across a wide spectrum of activity but also have a significant strand of work that seeks to influence external policy and practice on specific issues. The Hard Edges research is relevant to several of these including criminal justice, alcohol misuse and improving the well-being of women. We had read the Hard Edges report for England and when we heard that a similar proposal was being developed for Scotland we were keen to get involved. We hoped to learn from the research but we also felt we could offer support and connections through our range of stakeholders.

The landscape in Scotland is ripe for preventative approaches thanks to the work of the Christie Commission and its continuing relevance to public sector reform. This profile will help us go forward with a solid understanding prevalence of and links between the different dimensions of severe and multiple disadvantage.

The need to understand people living in situations of severe and multiple disadvantage chimes with our own understanding from our involvement funding initiatives in the criminal justice system; that a core group of those who are in our prisons also have experience of substance misuse and homelessness. And unlike the England study that preceded this one, we’re very encouraged by the widening of the study to include mental ill-health and domestic violence/abuse domains.

We are encouraged by the emphasis on the qualitative element within the study; to hear and learn from interviews with key informants and engage with the strengths and perspectives of people who have experienced living in situations of multiple disadvantage. We expect this will provide a better and more ‘human’ study of the situation, and ultimately a better understanding of what potential solutions may be possible.

Traditionally, our funding often focuses separately on the overlapping domains of homelessness, mental health etc. This study offers the possibility to understand the scale and nature of how these overlap, and how institutions and systems may themselves create situations for people who live in multiple disadvantage. This has the potential to highlight opportunities for us to engage in complex system and structural change, rather than the usual forms of intervention that suggest it is individuals or some communities who are deficient and ‘need to be fixed’.

We look forward to the learning from the study’s findings and to identify opportunities for influence and collaboration. That’s when we expect the real challenge and practical work will begin, as we respond to the need to work differently to better support people who live on the ‘hard edges’.

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