May 25, 2021

Scotland’s Forgotten Rural Poor

For many years now, the city has been the main focus of church planting and theological thought (at least in many quarters). But it seems that rural ministry is a bit like the ugly girl at a wedding. Everybody knows she’s there, but nobody wants to dance with her.

It’s not my intent to talk about rural ministry in-depth in this article. I am determined, however, to highlight the plight of what we at 20schemes are terming rural-housing schemes, which are scattered throughout Scotland in what are—often incorrectly—thought of as less deprived areas than their urban counterparts.

Rural Need

Doubtless, the Western world is urbanising. It has been since the industrial revolution. The poor and marginalised on the fringes need Christ, and they need gospel-centred churches in which to grow and mature. But the massive gospel-deficiency in rural areas in the UK is just as pressing and as needful of deep thought, concern, discussion, theologising, and church-planting action. I’m continually struck by the plight of rural areas as we at 20schemes have gone about researching the need for healthy churches across Scotland.

As we’ve carried out research over the last several years, we’ve discovered the existence of a great many invisible housing schemes in rural areas across the country. Why is this phenomenon not being widely reported in evangelical church-planting circles in our country? The problem, according to a report from the University of Dundee, is that the way we measure deprivation in our nation is somewhat faulty. For example, we read:

The conventional practice of using geographic units to analyse deprivation misses small pockets of deprivation in rural areas – when counts of deprived people rather than deprived places are used, the difference in deprivation between rural and urban areas is substantially narrowed.

How, therefore, is deprivation measured in Scotland?

Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation

According to the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD), there are seven key factors to take into account when looking at terming an area‘deprived’:

  1. Income—based on the receipt of key, means-tested benefits, tax credits, or pension credits.
  2. Employment—based on receipt of out of work benefits.
  3. Health—based on deaths, receipt of sickness benefits, hospital admissions, and drug prescriptions.
  4. Education, skills, and training—Based on the level of qualifications, participation in education or training, and absences from schools.
  5. Housing—based on overcrowding and lack of central heating.
  6. Geographic access to services—based on public transport and drive times to key services.
  7. Crime—based on recorded offences.

Urban Deprivation vs. Rural Deprivation

Does it make any real difference whether you live in a scheme in the inner city or on the outskirts of a rural town? Well, there are some major differences. For example, startlingly, we have discovered that geographic access to services, based on public transport and drive times to key services, is 10 times worse if you live in a rural scheme than if you live in an urban one.

There are some researchers who feel that the data used to define deprivation in Scotland is skewed toward urban and industrialised areas. So, for instance, the rural poor may live in a nicer area—and thus not be qualified as ‘deprived’ according to the majority of the seven factors noted—but they are far more likely to be socially excluded and have a greater struggle with isolation given where they live. According to Dr Donald Houston from the University of St Andrews and Dr Alistair Geddes from the University of Dundee:

Deprivation in urban areas tends to be geographically concentrated in certain neighbourhoods. In contrast, in rural areas, deprivation often exists at the scale of streets rather than whole neighbourhoods.

What does this mean for 20schemes and our vision? Well, at the very least, it means that we will be recruiting church planters and male and female gospel workers for rural schemes alongside urban ones. These rural areas may not feature high up on the SIMD, but they are a high priority for us as we seek to plant and/or revitalise gospel work in all of Scotland’s needy areas.


Much of this information has been taken from The Church of Scotland Mission & Discipleship Council Rural Strategy Understanding Rural Deprivation Report, January 2012