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Harman announces new socio-economic equality duty for public bodies

In a high profile meeting with key public bodies last week Harriet Harman the Equalities Secretary has confirmed there are plans to include a new socio-economic duty within the Equality Bill.

Earlier this year Professor John Hills and the newly formed National Equality Panel were tasked with finding out the impact of socio economic disadvantage on equality of outcomes.  The research published by the panel  shows evident links between social class and outcomes in health, education and job prospects, with the poorer sections of society drawing the shorter straw.

The new duty will require Government Ministers, departments and key public bodies (such as local authorities, Primary Care Trusts, and Regional Development Agencies) to consider what action they can take to reduce socio-economic inequalities when making strategic decisions about spending and services. It will not affect front line decisions about individuals.

For example, poorer people tend to suffer greater ill health, so a Strategic Health Authority could target health advice or smoking cessation services at deprived areas. However a hospital would not for example have to prioritise an operation on a person just because they were from a deprived area.

Data collected by the key public service inspectorates (such as Audit Commission) will help the Government monitor compliance with the duty
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Harriet Harman, Minister for Women and Equality, said:

“We have put in as clause one in the Equality Bill a duty to narrow the gap between rich and poor. the new duty will attack one of the most fundamental and stubborn of all the determinants of inequality and ensure public bodies take the action they can to tackle it.

By the age of six, bright children from poor families are overtaken by less able children from wealthier families.  People’s social class also affects their life expectancy. For example, women generally have a longer life expectancy than men, but research shows that on average poor women now live less long than rich men.”

Professor John Hills said:

“The National Equality Panel hopes to provide an authoritative account of the inequality that persists in Britain today.  We hope our report will provide public authorities and others with a robust evidence base to help them tackle social inequality and in doing so improve outcomes for people from the most deprived backgrounds.”

The proposals have received an angry response from the Daily mail and Telegraph, newspapers thought to represent the Middle Britain. The Telegraph’s coverage of the clause leads with the headline “Middle classes to lose out under Harman's equality plan”.  The Sunday Express has used the headline” Harman launches a new war on the middle class”

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posted by

Asif Yusuf

 

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