By Georgia Marks – Diverse Cymru Researcher
What is the Socio-Economic Duty?
Section 1 of Part 1 of the Equality Act 2010 sets out the socio-economic duty. In short, it requires public bodies, when taking decisions of a strategic nature, to have due regard to the need to reduce inequalities of outcome that result from socio-economic disadvantage.
So, public bodies need to consider how decisions may increase of decrease socio-economic inequalities.
The History of the Socio-Economic Duty in Wales
The socio-economic duty originates from the Equality Act 2010. However, when the Equality Act was enacted, the socio-economic duty was not commenced in the UK. Wales was given the power to commence the socio-economic duty in 2017. This is because the Wales Act 2017 legislated for a new model of devolution that expanded Wales’ powers. Once the power was devolved, the Welsh Government consulted on the duty in 2019.
The Coronavirus has halted the commencement date of the legal duty. The duty will now come into force on the 31st March 2021. Despite its delays, we support the commencement of the socio-economic duty and its potential to ensure equality for all.
How we hope the Socio-Economic duty will be used
The guidance document currently available for the socio-economic duty provides some great starting points for what we want to see from the duty. Overall, we hope it will be a tool to advance equality for all by tackling poverty in Wales.
The duty needs to look at eradicating poverty amongst all groups. Robust equality impact assessments should be carried out so that if any differing impacts are identified for any groups, public bodies will take steps to address any disproportionate impacts. However, there should also a fresh focus on how to maximise positive impacts too. Therefore, involving people from all 9 protected characteristic groups facing socio-economic disadvantage is crucial within the due regard element of the duty. This is because understanding all people’s lived experiences will ensure proper consideration of how different decisions will impact all groups facing socio-economic disadvantage. Involvement may also help to provide co-produced solutions to problems.
In addition, it is important to consider all protected characteristic groups and how some people from these groups may be at a ‘socio-economic disadvantage.’ In particular, bodies need to consider how different characteristics intersect and how this may heighten inequalities that they face. This could be achieved by meaningful engagement with individuals across the protected characteristic groups. It is also important for public bodies to work with third sector organisations who know how to engage with people at all levels. Also, effective data collection on impacts on particular groups is also really important. This data collection should also involve research reports from academics and the third sector.
Although the duty only applies to public bodies who satisfy the test within section 2(6) of the Equality Act, we hope that other bodies will be encouraged to use this process when making strategic decisions. Considering how decisions may increase or decrease socio-economic inequalities should go beyond best practice and become a building block of decision-making.