Social exclusion and people with intellectual disabilities: a rural–urban comparison


Professor Sally-Ann Cooper, Institute of Health and Wellbeing, University of Glasgow, Mental Health and Wellbeing Group, 1st Floor Administrative Building, Gartnavel Royal Hospital, 1055 Great Western Road, Glasgow G12 0XH, UK (e-mail:


Background  Research suggests that social exclusion is a problem both for people with intellectual disabilities (ID) and for people living in rural areas. This may give rise to a double disadvantage for people with ID living in rural areas. Conversely, aspects of rural life such as community spirit and social support may protect against social exclusion in this population. This study was designed to compare a number of measures of social exclusion in adults with ID living in rural and urban areas, with the aim of identifying whether a double disadvantage exists.

Method  Adults with ID were recruited from a rural and an urban area in Scotland. Participants participated in a face-to-face interview and their medical notes were accessed. Social exclusion was investigated using a number of measures comprising: daytime opportunities and physical access to community facilities (using part of the British Institute of Learning Disabilities questionnaire), recent contact with others and the quality of personal relationships (using a modified Interview Measure of Social Relationships questionnaire) and area deprivation by postcode (using the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation). The data were analysed using a series of binary logistic regression models that adjusted for variables including age, gender, level of ID, mental illhealth and common physical co-morbidities.

Results  A representative sample of adults with ID from rural (n = 39) and urban (n = 633) areas participated. Participants from rural areas were significantly more likely to have any regular daytime opportunity [odds ratio (OR) = 10.8, 95% CI = 2.3–51.5] including employment (OR = 22.1, 95% CI = 5.7–85.5) and attending resource centres (OR = 6.7, 95% CI = 2.6–17.2) than were participants from urban areas. They were also more likely to have been on holiday (OR = 17.8, 95% CI = 4.9–60.1); however, were less likely to use community facilities on a regular basis. Participants from urban and rural areas had a similar number of contacts with other people in a wide range of situations, but the quality of relationships may have been less close in rural areas. Finally, participants lived in significantly less deprived areas when in rural compared with urban areas (Mann–Whitney U = 7826, Z = −3.675, P ≤ 0.001).

Conclusions  These results suggest that adults with ID living in rural areas have better opportunities and live in less deprived areas than adults with ID living in urban areas. However, they may not hold such positive or close relationships, and this may be important when considering the subjective experience of social exclusion.