Is it time for voluntary adoption of the Socio-Economic Duty in Greater Manchester?
By Graham Whitham, Chief Executive
Over thirty people, including local Members of Parliament and councillors, joined us on Wednesday evening last week for a webinar on voluntary adoption of the Socio-Economic Duty. The webinar was jointly hosted by GMPA, Just Fair and The Equality Trust. There were contributions from all three organisations, and from the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
The Socio-Economic Duty is the missing piece in the UK’s equalities legislation. Although the Equality Act 2010 contains a Socio-Economic Duty, it hasn’t been enacted. That means that public bodies do not need to give due regard to poverty and socio-economic status when making strategic decisions and designing services, in the same way that they have to for protected characteristics.
One way to overcome the failure to enact the duty is for public bodies to adopt it voluntarily. GMPA believes that public bodies in Greater Manchester should think about how they can apply the duty. This would mean that socio-economic assessments are included when our local public bodies are undertaking equality impact assessments of projects and activities and when taking policy decisions.
What does applying the Socio-Economic Duty mean in practice?
Applying the socio-economic duty means paying ‘due regard’ to the desirability of reducing the inequalities caused by socio-economic disadvantage and poverty, reducing inequalities of outcome caused by socio-economic disadvantage, and actively considering how to reduce inequalities of outcome when taking decisions and designing services. Key questions that public bodies should ask to ensure socio-economic status is fully considered when making strategic decisions and designing services:
- What are the potential impacts of the proposal/decision as we currently understand them?
- Are there any unintended consequences of the proposal/decision on people experiencing poverty?
- How could the proposal/decision be improved so it reduces or further reduces inequalities of outcome, with a particular focus on socio-economic disadvantage?
- How will this policy or service assist you to reduce inequality in outcomes overall?
- How can we ensure the views and experiences of people in poverty inform decisions and service design?
- If you are now planning to adjust the proposal/decision, could it be adjusted still further to benefit particular communities of interest or of place who are more at risk of socio-economic disadvantage?
Some public bodies in Greater Manchester are already making progress on this. GMPA is keen to work with them and others so that voluntary adoption of the duty becomes widespread across the city region.
At the webinar we heard about the importance of taking socio-economic inequality into account when designing services and making decisions, particularly in light of the inequalities exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. During the pandemic, GMPA worked through the GM Humanitarian Assistance Group to support local authorities on inclusion of socio-economic status in their equality impact assessments of responses to the pandemic. You can read the briefing we published at the time here.
Please do contact GMPA if you’d like to explore adoption of the duty further.