Equality Commission reports on progress towards socio-economic equality

Published: 11 Sep 2018

Scotland’s statutory equality body, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, has today published a report which examines how duties to promote socio-economic equality, introduced into Scottish legislation during the past four years, have fared. 

Overall the report found that these new duties have had little measureable impact.

Speaking today Dr Lesley Sawers, our Scotland Commissioner, said:

'Whilst these new duties were positive in their intent, because of a lack of clarity about who was responsible for implementing them or how they might be scrutinised or enforced, they have had little impact. The lack of accountability is, I think, a critical factor. Because no one was actually checking on whether or not local authorities were doing what they were meant to do, and because there was no Parliamentary scrutiny or regulation, there really has been little incentive for local authorities to do better.

'However, local authorities did tell us that they thought that the duties placed on them weren’t particularly helpful. All local authorities in Scotland have socio-economic objectives and these new duties didn’t really dovetail with their existing approaches. This, combined with a lack of guidance or assistance from government, meant that the duties were effectively wishful thinking.'

These new socio-economic equality clauses were introduced between 2014 and 2016 into legislation about young people, education and community empowerment. They pre-date the introduction of Section 1 of the Equality Act 2010 (the Socio-economic or 'Fairer Scotland Duty') into Scotland. Scotland remains the only part of Great Britain to have introduced the socio-economic duty.

Dr Sawers continued:

'The big difference between these existing duties and the new Fairer Scotland Duty is that the latter has a clearer purpose, explicit guidance, and a regulatory framework which allows public bodies to be held to account.

'Whilst it remains early days – the Fairer Scotland Duty only came into force in April 2018 – I believe that the new duty is far more likely to result in meaningful change.'

Scotland remains a divided country with huge variations in income despite being part of one of the richest nations on Earth. We support the Scottish Governments approach to narrowing these inequalities and ensuring that everyone in Scotland, irrespective of their origins, has a fair chance to prosper. The Fairer Scotland Duty cuts across public policy requiring public bodies to think how planning for growth, job creation, or housing provision can narrow these gaps.”

Notes to editors

  1. This research looks at how socio-economic clauses introduced into the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014, the Community Empowerment Act (Scotland) 2015, the Education (Scotland) Act 2016, and the Child Poverty Act (Scotland) 2017, are working. For example, the Education (Scotland) Act 2016, requires Scottish Ministers and Education Authorities to pay due regard to need to reduce inequalities of income based on socio-economic disadvantage.
  2. In conducting the research we spoke to a number of Parliamentarians, clerks and policy makers in Scotland who were involved in the shaping of these pieces of legislation. We found that the expectations of what the duties may achieve has not been realised. We believe that this is largely due to a lack of structure around accountability and scrutiny.
  3. The power to implement Section 1 of the Equality Act 2010 was devolved to the Scottish parliament as part of the Smith Commission report in 2016. The duty was introduced in April 2017. Scotland is only part of Great Britain where this clause is in force. The duty requires public bodies such as local authorities, the police and the NHS to 'when making decisions of a strategic nature about how to exercise its functions, have due regard to the desirability of exercising them in a way that is designed to reduce the inequalities of outcome which result from socio-economic disadvantage.' We are the regulator for this duty.
  4. The research was conducted for us by Wellside Research Ltd and is published on the Commission's website.

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