This post was published in the blog of The Baring Foundation
The Scottish government is currently consulting on the implementation of Section 1 of the Equality Act 2010, which would require public bodies to consider when making decisions how they would reduce the equalities of outcome resulting from socio-economic disadvantage. Just Fair is one of the organisations leading the #1forEquality campaign to urge the UK government to do the same. Koldo Casla explains why.
The UK is a very unequal society. While the share of income in the top 20% has remained approximately stable since the early 1990s, the share of the top 1% continuously increased well into the 2000s. There are significant gaps between ethnic groups, with the median income of a family of Bangladeshi origin 35% below that of a white British household. Inequality is most evident in the distribution of wealth: The richest 1,000 people accumulate more wealth than the poorest 40% of households.
The austerity policies implemented by successive UK governments have been strongly criticised by independent international human rights bodies.
In summer 2016 the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights expressed serious concernsabout “the disproportionate adverse impact that austerity measures, introduced since 2010, are having on the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights by disadvantaged and marginalized individuals and groups”.
Last August the Chair of the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities described the situation in the UK as a “human catastrophe”: “Each disabled person is losing between £2,000 and £3,000 per year; people are pushed into work situations without being recognised as vulnerable, and the evidence that we [the UN Committee] had in front of us was just overwhelming”.
Like all other countries, the UK is expected to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted in 2015, including the 10th one, whereby governments pledged to ensure equal opportunity and to reduce inequalities of outcome between and within countries.
However, because of its comparatively low investment in education and a regressive tax structure, the UK does not rank highly when it comes to the commitment to reduce inequality.
The UK must change course soon but luckily we don’t have to reinvent the wheel.
Section 1 of the Equality Act 2010 imposes a duty on public bodies, when making strategic decisions, to consider how they can reduce the inequalities of outcome that result from socioeconomic disadvantage.
To take effect, though, this provision requires a formal decision by the Government to activate it, or as is known technically, to commence it.
Despite being at the forefront of the Act, successive governments have failed to bring the socioeconomic equality duty into force. As a result of the Government’s inaction in this regard, in the mentioned 2016 report the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights concluded that the UK was not doing everything within its power to tackle discrimination in relation to these rights.
Thankfully the Scottish Government is committed to introducing the socioeconomic duty before the end of the year, and has launched a consultation about what this duty should mean in practice. At the end of this process, Scotland will become the first part of the UK to bring the socioeconomic equality duty to life.
Scottish authorities can learn from the experience of several councils that have incorporated the socioeconomic duty in their strategic planning and integrated impact assessments in spite of the UK Government’s refusal to trigger this duty.
For example, Newcastle City Council’s work to reduce socioeconomic inequalities includes “A Fair Budget for a Fairer City”. At every stage of the budget process, the Council considers the impact of measures on equality and services to the most disadvantaged groups.
Islington Council in London produced a helpful Equality Impact Assessment (EIA) guidance for practitioners and policy makers.
And Newham Council, also in London, developed a three-year Equality and Cohesion Plan using the previous Equality Schemes for Race, Gender and Disability as a starting point.
(You can read more about their processes in Just Fair’s joint response with The Equality Trust to the Scottish government’s consultation.)
Further research is needed to examine the way in which the socioeconomic duty is making a difference in specific council policies and ultimately in the improvement on people’s lives. We in Just Fair are eager to pursue this path because we are convinced that best practices should be studied and made known as widely as possible.
In the meantime, these and other examples could serve as starting points for Scottish authorities and indeed for all other councils devoted to the reduction of inequalities.
The duty to take due regard to the desirability reduction of inequalities of outcome which result from socioeconomic disadvantage can make a big difference. Public authorities must show that their policies are best designed to achieve equality and a higher level of enjoyment of economic and social rights for everyone, especially for the most disadvantaged groups. It is not only a matter of equality and human rights. It is also about transparency, open society and evidence-based policy-making.
Together with The Equality Trust and others, Just Fair is running the campaign #1forEquality to urge the UK government to bring to life the socioeconomic equality duty contained in Section 1 of the Equality Act. This piece is partly based on a joint submission to the Scottish consultation on the introduction of the socioeconomic duty. Just Fair’s work on the socioeconomic equality duty is generously supported by the Baring Foundation as part of a grant to promote a human rights-based approach to social justice.
Koldo Casla, Just Fair
In October 2016, the Scottish Government announced that it intended to introduce the socio-economic duty contained in Section 1 of the Equality Act 2010.
In July 2017, the Scottish Government reiterated this commitment and launched an open consultation. At the end of this process, Scotland will become the first part of the UK to bring the socio-economic equality duty to life.
We very much welcome the Scottish Government’s determination to bring the socio-economic equality duty to life in Scotland. We hope Scotland will set an example for the governments in Wales and the UK as a whole.
We recommend the Scottish Government learn from the experiences of those councils that have implemented the socio-economic duty in spite of the UK Government’s refusal to commence it.
Find our response to the consultation of the Scottish Government here.
This article was published in Left Foot Forward
The countdown is on to the General Election, and party manifestos have been coming thick and fast. There’s plenty of rhetorical commitment to a more equal and fair society, with the Conservatives proclaiming that they ‘abhor[s] social division, injustice, unfairness and inequality’, and Labour declaring itself ‘the party of equality’. The Liberal Democrats say they will focus on ‘breaking down the barriers that hold people back’, while Plaid Cymru wants a country based on ‘fairness and equal opportunity’. The Green Party promises to ‘fight for equality, and for a society where nobody is left behind’, and the SNP says ‘tackling rising inequality must be one of the key priorities of the next parliament’.
They all use the word ‘rights’ a good number of times. In fact, for the first time in too many years no serious political party threatens to repeal the Human Rights Act in the next Parliament, which is only thanks to the tireless campaigning of so many activists up and down the country.
There are many levers available to policymakers to ease our social divisions – taxation, spending, investment and regulation offer opportunities to tackle inequality. We need them all: the UK has among the most unequal incomes in the developed world, and an eye-watering wealth gap that sees the richest 1,000 people hoarding more wealth than the poorest 40 per cent of the population combined. This economic gulf hurts us. It undermines our enjoyment of human rights by harming our physical and mental health and by hindering our education, it damages our economy, restricts social mobility, reduces levels of trust and civic participation, and weakens the social ties that bind us.
How many of the parties have put their money where their mouth is and committed to reducing socioeconomic inequality as a legal public duty?
They needn’t even make new legislation: our existing Equality Act 2010 already provides for it. The very first section of the Act imposes a duty on public bodies, when making strategic decisions, to consider how they can ‘reduce the inequalities of outcome which result from socio-economic disadvantage’. However, despite being passed by Parliament in 2010, governments since then have refused to bring section 1 into force.
So have those vying for our votes sought to rectify this in their manifestos?
Earlier this year, the SNP set out its intention to bring the socio-economic duty into force in Scotland, and so it is extremely welcome that its manifesto promises the party’s MPs will ‘seek an early opportunity to pursue a Bill at Westminster to ensure the UK government commences this important duty.’ Likewise, while their manifesto is not entirely clear about it, Labour’s policy team has confirmed to us that the party would indeed ‘reinstate the legal requirement forcing public bodies to try to reduce inequalities’.
The Liberal Democrats promise to bring more of the Equality Act’s neglected provisions into force, but they don’t mention the socio-economic duty.
The Conservatives, Plaid Cymru and the Green Party remain silent about it.
The socio-economic equality duty is not “red tape”. It is about transparency and evidence-based policy. It empowers us, as citizens, to hold public authorities to account by looking into how their decisions and actions could exacerbate or reduce inequality. It is also a useful mechanism to help to shield the most vulnerable and level the playing field between people from different socio-economic backgrounds. In fact, several local authorities have been voluntarily assessing the impact of their policies for years, keenly feeling their duty to protect their most vulnerable constituents.
Had it been properly brought into force when the Act became law in 2010, who knows what the socio-economic equality duty might have achieved? Would we have seen such swingeing cuts to social security if DWP were forced to properly consider how it would contribute to socio-economic disadvantage? Could the Treasury have justified the continuation of austerity measures that have breached the UK’s international human rights obligations, not to speak of the damage done to our public services?
With Brexit looming ever closer, all parties are keen to show that they would put the UK’s best foot forward on the world stage. For the wellbeing of a fair society based on the equal enjoyment of all human rights, we need whichever party forms the next UK Government to commit to bringing section 1 of the Equality Act into force.
Lucy Shaddock is Public Affairs and Campaigns Manager at The Equality Trust
Koldo Casla ia Policy, Research and Training Manager at Just Fair
Despite it now grabbing all the headlines, we mustn’t forget that the snap General Election on 8 June will not be the only chance for many of us to cast our votes this year.
Citizens living in Wales, Scotland and 35 councils, six combined authorities and two districts in England will go the polls on 4 May to elect their local representatives, whose power is felt most closely by most of us.
Mayors and councillors have the ability to make a real difference by addressing inequality and improving the general enjoyment of economic and social rights in society.
Authorities at all levels should be transparent and work out the allocation of their resources and the design of their policies in light of actual evidence, but in our unequal society it’s vital that tackling socio-economic inequalities is at the heart of these decisions.
To take one good example, for a number of years Newcastle City Council has conducted integrated impact assessments of the potential effects of their annual Budgets on individuals and groups affected by socio-economic disadvantage in relation to health, general welfare, community cohesion, safety and natural environment. We believe this is a good practice that could and should be replicated elsewhere.
That’s why Just Fair and The Equality Trust have contacted all Mayoral candidates with a simple question: If elected Mayor, do you pledge to assess the impact of your decisions on reducing inequalities of outcome that result from socio-economic disadvantage?
In other words, we are urging them to act in the spirit of Section 1 of the Equality Act 2010. Despite being adopted seven years ago, this government and the previous one have refused to commence Section 1, which means that it is not technically in force yet. However, the case of Newcastle and others show that councils (and mayors) can effectively implement Section 1 within their powers.
Though we are encouraging local representatives to voluntarily do so, addressing socio-economic inequalities should not depend on the will of councillors and mayors. As a believer in a shared society, Theresa May should have matched her words with deeds and brought Section 1 to life in this Parliament. So now, in light of the announced snap elections, we call on all parties to take social rights and inequalities seriously and to prioritise Section 1 in their manifestoes.
The devolved administrations must take responsibility as well. The Scottish Government announced last year that it will enforce the socio-economic equality duty, and we expect this to happen soon. Likewise, the recently adopted Wales Act 2017 confers this power on the Welsh Government, and we urge it to follow suit.
The General Election may be stealing the limelight, but in just a fortnight, council leaders, councillors and mayoral candidates have the opportunity to show they are truly committed to a more equal society that advances the protection of human rights for all.
Dear candidate, are you #1forEquality?
There are crucial local and Mayoral elections coming up across the UK in May so this is an ideal time to push for some simple policies that will materially reduce inequality and improve the quality of life where you live. To help everyone take action, we have come up with four asks – The Fairness Four – that you can put to your sitting councillors and also candidates, as follows:
- Evaluate the likely impact of council policies on socio-economic inequality*
- Pay all directly contracted staff the real Living Wage (as set by the Living Wage Foundation)
- Ensure all council contractors are required to pay staff the real Living Wage
- Publish a plan to reduce the pay ratio between the CEO and the lowest-paid directly employed council worker
* As per the Socio-economic Duty, section 1 of the Equality Act 2010. This was, regrettably, not brought into force by central government but local councils can take action on this and many are doing so eg: Newcastle and other major cities. The Equality Trust and Just Fair are campaigning to encourage the Government to bring the duty into force: https://1forequality.com/
You may be able to find your local council and Mayoral candidates here using this citizen-led database. Your local council website and/or your local library may well also have candidate information. Please forward any responses you receive from any councillors or candidates to us at firstname.lastname@example.org – thank you.
By taking this action you are actively helping to build a fairer, better UK. Thank you very much for your support.
The Equality Trust Team
The new Wales Act 2017 gives a powerful tool to the Welsh Government to tackle socio-economic inequalities. Section 45 of the Wales Act empowers the Welsh administration to commence the socio-economic equality duty of the Equality Act 2010 in Wales. This duty requires public bodies “when making decisions of a strategic nature about how to exercise [their] functions [to] have due regard to the desirability of exercising them in a way that is designed to reduce the inequalities of outcome which result from socio-economic disadvantage” (section 1).
Despite being adopted in 2010, the UK Governments since then have refused to bring section 1 of the Equality Act into force. This refusal was criticised by the UN in 2016, which denounced that the Government was not doing everything within its power regarding non-discrimination in relation to economic and social rights.
The Equality Trust and Just Fair urge theEquality, Local Government and Communities Committee of the National Assembly to recommend the Welsh Government to bring section 1 of the Equality Act 2010 to life in order to address inequalities of outcome and socio-economic disadvantage in Wales.
The Equality Trust and Just Fair are urgently calling on the DWP to support the commencement of the socio-economic duty in section 1 of the Equality Act 2010. It introduced a duty on public bodies that required them “when making decisions of a strategic nature about how to exercise its functions [to] have due regard to the desirability of exercising them in a way that is designed to reduce the inequalities of outcome which result from socio-economic disadvantage.”
Passed by Parliament in 2010, this duty has yet to be brought into force.
The Scottish government has already announced that it will legislate this year to introduce the socioeconomic duty. The newly adopted Wales Act 2017 confers this power on the Welsh government.
The Equality Trust and Just Fair have written to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Damian Green, calling on him to recommend the commencement of section 1 in his department’s forthcoming Green Paper on Social Justice. This announcement would strengthen the government’s vision for a “shared society” and “a country that works not for a privileged few but for every one of us”.
This is the first step in a new joint campaign on equality and human rights: #1forequality.
Dr Wanda Wyporska, Executive Director of The Equality Trust, said:
“The Socio-Economic Duty could play a key part in tackling the excessive inequality we see in the UK. Scotland recognises the importance and the potential of this uncommenced Duty, the Westminster Government is slow to act. The rampant inequality we see in the UK is damaging our society, our economy and our future. People in more unequal countries suffer from poorer physical and mental health, lower self-esteem, lower social mobility, and have less trust in institutions and civic participation.”
Jamie Burton, Chair of Just Fair, added:
“Inequality, particularly when it grows, suggests that the right policies are not in place to ensure an adequate standard of living for all. It is not only about material needs and available resources. Equality is of paramount importance for meaningful choice in a free society. Inequality puts freedom at risk. A more equal society can empower more people to take control over their lives. Several international human rights institutions have warned about the negative effects of inequality on the enjoyment of economic and social rights”.
Notes to editors:
The Equality Trust works to improve the quality of life in the UK by reducing economic inequality.
Just Fair monitors and advocates economic and social rights in the UK.
For further comments and to interview The Equality Trust or Just Fair, contact:
The Equality Trust – John Hood (email@example.com)
Just Fair – Koldo Casla (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Inequality is harming our society
The UK is one of the most economically unequal countries in the developed world.
The international evidence shows that inequality harms physical and mental health, self-esteem, happiness, sense of trust and civic participation. Unequal societies have less social mobility and higher crime rates.
The most recent data has shown a slight fall in income inequality as a result of extremely low levels of income growth since the beginning of the financial crisis in 2007/08. However, this trend is likely to be reversed when scheduled social security cuts take effect, leading the IFS to predict a 50% rise in child poverty by 2020. Meanwhile, falling or stagnant incomes and growing house prices in the last decade are increasing wealth inequality.
Inequality is not working
“One of the leading economic stories of our time is rising income inequality, and the dark shadow it casts across the global economy.”
Christine Lagarde, IMF managing director, May 2014.
“If you grow the pie but too few people enjoy the benefits of it, the fruit, you’ll have an unstable society.”
Lloyd Blankfein, Chief Exec of Goldman Sachs, June 2014
“High levels of inequality are a problem—messing up economic incentives, tilting democracies in favor of powerful interests, and undercutting the ideal that all people are created equal.”
Bill Gates, October 2014
“We meet today during the first lost decade since the 1860s. […] When combined with low growth of incomes and entrenched intergenerational inequity, it is no wonder that many question their prospects.”
Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, December 2016
“Growing income and wealth disparity is seen by respondents as the trend most likely to determine global developments over the next 10 years.”
World Economic Forum Global Risks Report, January 2017
Inequality undermines human rights, individual agency and freedom
Inequality, particularly when it grows, suggests that the right policies are not in place to ensure an adequate standard of living and the improvement of the enjoyment of human rights for all.
Equality, however, is not only about resources and needs. It is also about freedom. Equality is of paramount importance for meaningful choice in a free society.
More equality means more autonomy and more agency. A more equal society can empower more people to take control over their lives.
Inequality is not inevitable: The Government has a powerful tool at its disposal
The Equality Act 2010 consolidated anti-discrimination legislation to require equal treatment in private and public services, and access to employment, for the protected characteristics of age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation.
So what about economic inequalities? Section 1 of the Equality Act introduced a socio-economic duty on public bodies that required them:
‘when making decisions of a strategic nature about how to exercise its functions’ to ‘have due regard to the desirability of exercising them in a way that is designed to reduce the inequalities of outcome which result from socio-economic disadvantage.’
Compelling public bodies to consider how their decisions and actions could exacerbate or reduce inequality would help to shield the most vulnerable and level the playing field between people from different socio-economic backgrounds.
However, despite being passed by Parliament in 2010, the Governments since then have refused to bring section 1 into force.
Following later amendments, if commenced now, the socio-economic duty would apply to ministers; Government departments; county, district and borough councils in England (and the Isles of Scilly); the Greater London Authority and police and crime commissioners.
On the steps of Downing Street, the Prime Minister set out her agenda to tackle social injustice and make ours “a country that works not for a privileged few but for every one of us”.
Her vision for a ‘shared society’ would be more effectively advanced if her Government brought to life the socio-economic duty currently lying dormant in statute.
The Scottish Government has already announced that it will legislate this year to introduce the socioeconomic duty. When adopted, the Wales Act 2017 will confer this power on the Welsh Government.
The international community also expects action. In 2015, together with other countries, the UK pledged as part of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals to ensure equal opportunity and reduce inequalities of outcome. The UK has also ratified a number of treaties promising to deliver equality and non-discrimination. Unfortunately, the UK is falling short on too many grounds.
We call on the UK Government to commence section 1. Fully in force, the Equality Act would require transparent assessments of how public bodies’ policies and decisions contribute to our unequal outcomes – and how they could help to close the gap.