PEOPLE who have gone through the care system should be protected from discrimination in the same way others are on the basis of sex, race or religion.

The idea has been put forward by Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton to mark the start of Scottish Year of Young People 2018.

He said the life outcomes of those with experience of living in care were “demonstrably the worst of nearly any demographic in the country”.

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Recent Scottish Government research 13 per cent of care leavers came out of school with no qualifications at SCQF level 3 or better, compared to just 2 per cent of their peers.

A lower proportion of looked after children also achieved Curriculum for Excellence levels.

The UK Equality Act 2010 identified nine “protected characteristics” which cannot be used as a reason to treat people unfairly - age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation.

Although this is reserved legislation, its application is devolved to Scotland, meaning similar measures could be adopted for a particular group not currently defined in the Act.

Mr Cole-Hamilton, deputy convenor of Holyrood’s equalities committee, called for a review into whether “care experience” should now attract the same protection.

He said: “Scotland’s Year of Young People is a fantastic opportunity to highlight the enormous contributions made by young people.

"One of the areas where I would like to see radical change is in our approach to the treatment of care experienced young people.

“The life outcomes of the 15,000 children and young people who find themselves in the care system each year, are demonstrably the worst of nearly any demographic in our society.

"We need to do more to ensure that those professionals who interact with them have a full understanding of how trauma, attachment disorder, loss and other adverse childhood experiences can affect their lives and in turn their life chances.

"We could send a clear message about our commitment to care-experienced young people by treating them in the same way we treat other protected characteristics in an equalities context.

"I believe that a review could embed this, improve the protection of vulnerable young people and help ensure they have the best possible chance to get on in life."

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Scottish Parliament has limited powers in relation to the Equality Act 2010, which significantly restricts the ability of the Scottish Government to create and enforce a new protected characteristic.

“Evidence shows that outcomes are improving. The attainment gap is narrowing for looked after leavers, the number of those achieving one or more qualification at level 5 or better has more than doubled, from 15to 40 per cent since 2009/10 and 71 per cent of looked after children were in positive follow up destinations compared to 40 per cent in 2009/10.”