Sectarianism Distorting NHS Scotland’s Workforce ?

By Wladyslaw Mejka

For some centuries now, being a Catholic in Scotland has not been a passport to an easy life and it has certainly not been an identity which automatically opens the armoured glass doors to employment and career development.

Just over the water, in Northern Ireland, the reality of sectarianism and discrimination has been openly acknowledged and direct action taken over the last decade has seen employment equality between Protestants and Catholics change from, in 2001, an employment rate gap of 19% in favour of Protestants to, in 2010, a gap of just over 8%.  The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland [ECNI] publishes an annual report which is based on survey returns required from all employers [private and public sector] with over 11 employees and which identify the community background of employees as well as their gender.  This enables the ECNI to properly monitor the national workforce profile and check that progress is being made to deliver real, measurable equality in employment for Catholics in Northern Ireland.  Where necessary, ECNI can and does take action.

A simple, but powerfully effective tool which is delivering results.  Given this, it has to be asked : why does Scotland not do something similar ?

Part of the answer has to be that Scotland doesn’t like to admit that sectarianism is something which exists beyond the confines of certain football club supporters.  The implication being that as long as it is the rough, coarse working classes who maim and kill one another in the name of the Pope or King Billy, then Scotland’s middle-class can sustain the charade that Scotland is a ‘tolerant’ country. Another increasingly obvious reason is that Scotland’s politicians and political apparatchiks don’t want to know what the data on equality would tell them, whether it be about sectarianism and discrimination against Catholics, or the lack of BME people in jobs which help maintain the shape of Scotland’s public services as something fit for ‘people like us’.

If they don’t know about the extent of racism, disablism, homophobia or the rest, they don’t have to do anything beyond tokenistic hand-wringing over the more overt manifestations of discrimination.  Then the reaction is to, literally in the case of Visit Scotland in 2008, air-brush into the official documents on Scottish society a Disney-esque portrayal of shortbread-tin life in the kailyards of Brigadoon.

Scotland The White
Scotland The White

Scotland’s new specific equality duties can help us bring an end to this self-delusion and replace it with hard evidence of how the workplace looks, without the aid of an air-brush or selective memory.

In April 2013, most of Scotland’s major public bodies were required publish workforce data, profiling it by protected characteristic, including religion and belief, learning from what the data told them and then acting on it to show that they were eliminating discrimination.

Recent research into what the NHS has achieved with this area of the specific equality duties suggests sectarianism and discrimination in relation  to Catholics is a reality which no amount of air-brushing or data-massaging will remove.

Scotland The Air-Brushed
Scotland The Air-Brushed

We know that 19 of Scotland’s 22 NHS Boards published profiling reports.  The other 3 either blissfully ignorant or simply ignoring the law. No doubt the EHRC will be on their case.  It would be helpful if the Cabinet Secretary for Health was also to prod the 3 chief executives with a sharp performance-related-pay stick.

From the reports which were published, we know that the NHS in Scotland employs 158,326 workers.  We also know that 12,079 of them identify themselves as Catholic – just 7.63% of the workforce.  That is quite a way short of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland estimate for the Scottish Catholic population being 12.9%.
On the basis of these figures, there appears to be something like 8,345+ Catholic people missing from the payroll of Scotland’s NHS.

When performance on religious equality reveals that a town the size of Peebles would be needed to accommodate  all the Catholic people missing from the payroll of the NHS in Scotland, it is possible to conclude that sectarianism and institutional discrimination on the grounds of being a Catholic retains deep roots within the culture and practices of the NHS.

Given Visit Scotland’s form in the recent past, it is worth looking at their workforce profiling report.  In this you will read that out of 763 Visit Scotland workers, just 1 identifies as Catholic.

This article first appeared on Wladyslaw’s brilliant blog, Equality – If not now, when? The original can be viewed here.


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