Poorest Scots five times more likely to have been fined under Covid rules

Scots living in the most deprived areas of the country were five times more likely to be hit with a fine under the Covid-19 regulations during the first phase of the national lockdown, a new study has found.

The report, released by the Scottish Police Authority ahead of the authority’s meeting on Wednesday, also shows those from BAME backgrounds and non-UK individuals were also more likely to be fined by police during lockdown.

The analysis of more than 8,000 fixed penalty notices issued between March and December last year was written by Professor Susan McVie and Dr Ben Matthews at the University of Edinburgh’s law school.

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Fines were more likely to be given out by police in areas with more deprivation and to non-white Scots.

Scottish Conservative justice spokesperson Jamie Greene said the figures were “worrying”.

He said: “It is worrying to see that our poorer and ethnic minority communities were more likely to be fined as a result, given that we know they suffered disproportionately from the health effects of the Coronavirus throughout the pandemic.

“As we return to normality, SNP ministers must ensure that support is there for these communities, who have often found it tough to self-isolate or who have not known where to turn for support.

“That will help to ease the pressure on our police officers and allow them to focus on other issues of crime in our communities.”

The figures in the report show those living in the most deprived areas of Scotland were five times more likely to receive a fixed penalty notice (FPN) than those from the least deprived areas of Scotland.

Of all the FPNs issued in 2020, just under a quarter (24.9 per cent) were issued to those in the most deprived areas compared to 4.8 per cent in the least deprived areas.

Fine rates rapidly increased with deprivation, the study showed, with those living in areas with average deprivation receiving around 6 per cent of fines, similar to those in the least deprived areas.

The estimated rate of fines under Covid-19 regulations was higher for those from a BAME background versus those from a white background, the report stated.

In total, 14.8 fines per 10,000 white people were handed out by Police Scotland compared to 16.4 fines per 10,000 people among the BAME community.

The report states it is “not possible” to determine whether the difference was statistically significant, arguing that due to the fact the analysis was based on fines rather than individuals and is “extremely small”.

It adds a potential explanation for this discrepancy could be due to a lower level of overall compliance with Covid-19 restrictions among BAME groups, stating that by November and December, there was no difference between the rate of fines given to white and non-white offenders.

Overall, the independent advisory group on the enforcement of the emergency powers, led by John Scott QC, concluded that fines had been used in a “fair and proportionate way”.

Chief Constable Iain Livingstone said: “Officers and staff stepped-forward to explain fast-changing guidelines and emergency legislation and encouraged people to do the right thing. Where necessary, policing has enforced the law to support the collective response to the pandemic.”

“We understand the extraordinary sacrifices people have been asked to make during the public health crisis and officers and staff discharged their additional responsibilities with compassion, common sense and discretion.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “As the report makes clear, Police Scotland has approached its responsibilities in respect of Covid-related laws through the 4 Es approach – engage, explain, encourage and enforce. This has been successful in helping the public, police and government to view policing of the pandemic primarily as part of a package of public health measures and consistent with human rights principles, in particular, lawfulness, necessity and proportionality.

“Of the number of FPNs issued in the period 27 March to 31 December 2020, the majority (93.6%) were issued to people from a white background, this compared to the proportion of the Scottish population (94.3%). The likelihood of receiving a Fixed Penalty Notice based on where you live changed markedly during the different phases of the pandemic with far less disparity in phases 2 and 3.”

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