Public sector to do more to reduce inequalities.
In a UK first, public bodies in Scotland will be required to put reducing poverty and inequality at the heart of their decision making.
The introduction of a socio-economic duty was included in the UK Government’s Equality Act 2010 – however, it was never implemented. The Scottish Government is now pressing ahead alone and is seeking views on how best to apply the duty across the public sector.
Once implemented, it will mean bodies like councils and the NHS must consider what more they can do to reduce poverty and inequality, whenever they make major decisions. A consultation will ask which public bodies should be subject to the duty and what they need to do to demonstrate they are carrying it out.
Equalities Secretary Angela Constance launched the consultation while visiting the Star Project in Paisley, a community resilience and support programme that works in partnership with Renfrewshire Council to tackle poverty and deprivation.
Ms Constance said:
“Tackling inequalities will never be an optional extra for this government – it is core to everything we do. Implementing this duty, and requiring public bodies to put reducing inequalities at the heart of their decision making, is an important step. It further contributes to our actions on inclusive growth, ensuring increased economic prosperity goes hand in hand with a fairer, more equal country.
“Public bodies already do a huge amount to reduce inequalities, but with more than one in four children in poverty, we must all work together to do more and make a difference. The duty will further embed this into the DNA of public sector decision-making – including that of Scottish Ministers. It is not only the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do.
“Our action on inequalities is in stark contrast to the UK Government, who have refused to implement this requirement to reduce inequalities through decision making - all while scrapping child poverty targets. Instead we are ensuring our public bodies listen to and respond to the views of communities, particularly those with direct experience of poverty.”
Renfrewshire Council Leader, Councillor Iain Nicolson, said:
“The STAR Project are one of Renfrewshire’s key partners, working towards our ambition that every child reaches their full potential, regardless of their background.
“We know the reasons behind poverty and deprivation are complex, which is why understanding local issues and providing opportunities that really support people and families, where and when they need it, continues to be vital for Renfrewshire.
“Acting locally in partnership with organisations like the STAR Project makes a real difference to the lives of many families and this supports parents and carers to ensure children feel healthy, happy and valued, no matter how much money is in a household.”
John Wilkes, Head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission in Scotland, added:
“For the first time public bodies will be required to set out how their plans will help in reducing poverty. In recent years the number of people living in poverty has shrunk, but poverty has become more concentrated in some communities.
“The new Socio Economic Duty will help by focussing on how major decisions like the type of housing we build, our transport strategies and investment plans can narrow the gaps in experience between the most and the least advantaged in Scottish society.
“As regulator, we stand ready to ensure the Scottish Government make the most of this opportunity and will be pushing for similar moves by the government in Westminster.”
The eight-week public consultation is now open and closes on 12 September.
The introduction of the duty is the next step in the Scottish Government’s implementation of equalities powers secured through the Scotland Act 2016. It follows the introduction of legislation to address the underrepresentation of women in public life.
Introducing a socio-economic duty was the first of 50 measures set out in in the Fairer Scotland Action Plan, the Scottish Government’s vision for a fairer and more inclusive country, as well as a key recommendation by the Independent Advisor on Poverty and Inequality, Naomi Eisenstadt, in her Shifting the curve report.
The Scottish Government has also introduced statutory targets for the reduction of child poverty – which were recently scrapped at a UK-level. Meanwhile, the three-year rolling funding commitment for the equalities budget gives third sector bodies much needed reassurance.