By Koldo Casla
This article was originally published by LGiU, the local democracy think tank.
The Equality Act 2010 was a major step forward. It protects against direct and indirect discrimination in public services and harassment in the private sphere, including the workplace. Nine characteristics are protected within it: Age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation.
Although social class is not a protected characteristic under the Equality Act, Section 1 contains what is known as the socio-economic duty.
This duty would require public authorities to have due regard to “the desirability of exercising (their functions) in a way that is designed to reduce the inequalities of outcome which result from socio-economic disadvantage”.
However, sucessive governments since 2010 have failed to bring it to life, which means that public authorities are not technically bound by Section 1.
The duty could have made a difference in the case of Grenfell, for example. Had it been in force, it would have required the Kensington and Chelsea Council to consider whether its policies in relation to council tax, social housing, homelessness and disaster planning were adequate to address the enormous inequalities in the borough.
Section 1 of the Equality Act is technically not binding for public authorities in England, but some councils are showing what the duty could look like in practice.
Just Fair interviewed 20 council representatives, senior officers and voluntary sector groups in Manchester, Newcastle, Oldham, Wigan, Bristol, York and the London Borough of Islington.
Respondents used different frames and agendas to articulate their policies: Fairness, inclusive growth, impact assessment, equality budgeting, economic disadvantage, social exclusion… But all of them were clear that austerity had prompted them to react both because of the way Universal Credit and other welfare reforms were affecting their residents and because of the limitations on local government funding.
All seven councils show a combination of a) visible leadership, b) cultural shift, c) meaningful impact assessments, d) data transparency, and e) engagement with residents and the voluntary sector. Continue reading “Local authorities are paving the way to tackling inequality”