By Cllr Leanne Feeley Executive member for Education, Achievement and Equalities
Tameside Council has become the latest local authority in Greater Manchester to voluntarily adopt the Socioeconomic Duty, giving us a powerful new tool to understand, address and reduce inequalities in our communities.
The driving force behind choosing to adopt the Socioeconomic Duty at this time was simple. Up and down the country, local authorities and communities are grappling with an unprecedented cost of living crisis, an economic squeeze that the Bank of England predicts will be the longest in a century, and the likelihood of a new round of austerity. Tameside has not been immune to these challenges.
As with every local authority, Tameside Council has a statutory and moral obligation to our residents. We recognise that, when you look behind the economic facts and figures, poverty always carries a very real human cost that we cannot in good conscience ignore.
We were very fortunate in that we could draw upon a considerable body of existing knowledge and best practice on the Socioeconomic Duty to inform and influence the adoption in Tameside. In particular, our colleagues at Salford City Council and Greater Manchester Poverty Action were instrumental in shaping our approach, and we always found their doors to be open to us when we had further questions and enquiries. Further afield, case studies and research undertaken as part of the Fairer Scotland Duty, which was passed into law by the Scottish government back in 2018, provided us with insights from a mature and large-scale implementation of the Socioeconomic Duty.
Armed with this information, it quickly became clear that if we really want to make a difference, then simply adopting the Socioeconomic Duty by itself would not be sufficient. Therefore, as a first step, we took the time to think about what we wanted our priorities in Tameside’s fight against poverty to be, and how exactly adoption of the Socioeconomic Duty would turn focus attention and effort towards making them a reality.
This led to the creation of a series of policy recommendations that would align with, and be facilitated by, the Socioeconomic Duty.
Recognising that addressing poverty would be a years (if not decades) long effort, we wanted to ensure that commitment and consistency of practice would be maintained across political administrations and turnover of staff.
To strengthen compliance with the Socioeconomic Duty across the organisation, we proposed a number of improvements to Equality Impact Assessments and the assessment of policy and practice more broadly. Hand-in-hand with this went an effort to broaden and deepen our data gathering and analysis work, with the purpose of reinforcing accountability and giving us better insight into the unique nature of poverty in Tameside.
We also sought to leverage the power of the Socioeconomic Duty to support local residents, especially those with lived experience of poverty, to influence the decisions that affect them in a meaningful and substantive way outside of formal structures such as the Poverty Truth Commission.
Last but not least, a particular characteristic of poverty in Tameside is the prevalence of low-paid employment. At 28.5%, Tameside has the highest proportion of jobs that pay below the Living Wage in Greater Manchester. To start addressing this serious issue, we have linked adoption of the Socioeconomic Duty with promoting the uptake of the Living Wage among local employer. Both of these, we feel, are intrinsically connected as levers to promote equality and fairness.
This work culminated in the creation of an approach that we felt was ambitious but practical and, following its passage through our governance processes, the Socioeconomic Duty was formally adopted by the Executive Cabinet on 26 October 2022.
Our thanks go out to Greater Manchester Poverty Action and everybody else who helped us to get to this point. We are confident that the Socioeconomic Duty will stand as a major weapon in our arsenal as we work to help our residents through the difficult months ahead.