By Dr Wanda Wyporska, Executive Director, The Equality Trust

It’s the Government’s Duty to Act on Inequality
Fair By Design’s research shows that in some areas the market is indirectly unfair to people who are already on the wrong end of inequality. Those of us with certain protected characteristics are more likely to pay extra for using prepayment meters or for insurance premiums. This in a country that is ranked as one of the most unequal countries in the OECD. Countries with high levels of inequality are associated with poorer health, higher levels of imprisonment and lower levels of trust, for example.

The Prime Minister on 19 February 2021 agreed in a joint statement with other G7 leaders to commit to levelling up their economies. As well as his ‘levelling up’ agenda, the PM has made a commitment to reducing inequality as part of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Most significantly, he has a powerful tool to support his agenda – the Socio-Economic Duty, Section 1 of the Equality Act 2010.

The Duty states: ‘an authority to which this section applies must, 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.’

This means a public body can examine the adverse impact of inequality and adopt transparent and effective measures to address it.  However, the Government has decided not to bring the provision into legal effect.

Some jurisdictions and authorities have decided to make use of it nonetheless. The Scottish Government introduced it as part of the Fairer Scotland Act, Wales is set to introduce it this year and local authorities in Wigan, Bristol, and Islington have voluntarily adopted the Duty.

It all means that the Government has an ‘oven-ready’, as it were, legal instrument for its level-up pledge. As inequality increases because of Covid-19, we repeat our call to the Government to commence the Socio-Economic Duty and to fulfil its United Nations Sustainable Development Goal Number 10 to reduce inequality. Inequality affects us all, but it is not inevitable. It is a policy choice.

The Equality Trust is working with Just Fair, Compassion in Politics and other groups and individuals to encourage the Government to act. You can help by contacting your MP and asking them if they are supporting the Socio-Economic Duty.