Holyrood puts legal duty on public bodies to reduce inequalities
Public bodies in Scotland will become the first in the UK to be legally required to put reducing poverty and inequality at the heart of their decision making, under new proposals outlined by ministers.
The Scottish Government is seeking views on how best to apply the duty which will mean public bodies like councils and the NHS must consider what more they can do to reduce poverty and inequality, whenever they make major decisions.
A public 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.
The idea of a “socio-economic duty” on public bodies was included in the UK government’s Equality Act 2010, but was never implemented by ministers.
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.”
Introducing a socio-economic duty was the first of 50 measures set out 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.
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.”