Why Wigan Council have made it their own responsibility to consider poverty
GMPA is keen for socio-economic duty to be included in equalities legislation and early in 2020, as part of our work in response to the spread of COVID-19, we developed a briefing. Some public bodies, including Wigan Council, are taking matters into their own hands.
Councillor Paula Wakefield, Lead Member for Equalities and Domestic Violence at Wigan Council, explains why in Wigan Borough, a key consideration when developing new policies, is now the impact the policy will have on lower income households.
“I understand from personal experience the effect that coming from a lower income family can have on your life. My family were in a relatively stable situation until my father died when I was 13. He had received contaminated blood products as part of a treatment he had for his Haemophilia. He went on to die from Hepatitis C.
It was the early 90’s and there was massive stigma and discrimination surrounding these conditions. We lost our home, and my father had lost his job and his life insurance. When he died we were forced into bankruptcy.
The impact of suddenly living in a low, single income household affected everything. I stopped asking my mum if I could go on school trips or holidays as I knew she couldn’t afford it. My brother and I received free school meals and bills for essentials like utilities suddenly became a real struggle.
I had done well at school but knew that higher education wasn’t an option. We couldn’t afford for me to go to University, I knew I had to get a job and bring money into the family as soon as possible. If you live in a lower income household, your life choices and pathways become limited, through no fault of your own.
Perhaps because of my background, addressing any type of inequality will always be a passion of mine, so when I was offered the Lead Member role for Equalities and Domestic Abuse at Wigan Council, I knew it would be a perfect fit. In one of the first meetings in my new role we discussed tackling the way people are disproportionately affected if they come from lower income families.
I was informed that a decision had been made by the Government not to include socio-economic disadvantage as part of the Equality Act but that we could include it in our own Equality Commitment, which is already a statutory requirement, in the same way that we had adopted carers and veterans into our Commitment. I made the decision that this would be a priority and last year Wigan Council added socio-economic disadvantage to the protected characteristics listed in our Equality Commitment and our Equality Impact Assessments.
The fact that socio-economic disadvantage is now part of our Equality Commitment means that every time a new policy is developed, we are required to consider the impact it will have on those from lower income households. If we think it may have a detrimental effect, we discuss what we can do to make sure that does not happen.
Considering poverty as part of our Equality Commitment has also helped to raise the profile of the issue. Wigan Council is taking action to improve the life choices for those from lower income families in many different ways including making sure that high quality health services are accessible in lower income areas, providing quality, affordable homes and building more of the right homes, harnessing the power digital connectivity has to improve people’s opportunities and creating local economic growth through our Community Wealth Building Strategy.
It is so important for councils to adopt socio-economic duty. The coronavirus pandemic has shown that, yet again, it is the lower income families that are disproportionately affected and we must do everything we can to mitigate it.
We must continue to campaign for socio-economic disadvantage to be included in national legislation. But it’s also important to remember that there are small changes we can make locally, that can have a huge and positive impact on lower income families.
Everyone deserves the same life chances – no matter where you are born or how much money you have and if a Local Authority can help on that journey, why would we choose not to?”