Government pushes socio-economic inequality up the Agenda

20 years in the future January 13th 2009 may go down in history as the date equality out of outcome and social mobility was tackled by society.
In the government’s boldest effort yet to prove they are serious about creating a fairer more equal society, even during these difficult economic times it has introduced controversial equality proposals.

On Tuesday the government introduced their New Opportunities White Paper labeled the social mobility paper by commentators, it’s tasked at addressing differences in outcome linked to socio-economic class.

This is first time policy and potential legislation has been engineered to create equal opportunities for people across different socio economic groups. Some of the national press have interpreted this as an attack on the middle classes. On the other end of the scale media supportive of the policies have welcomed this as a move to narrow the gap between rich and poor.

Analysis of the white paper however really does not support either idea. The policies around addressing social mobility seem very much focused on leveling the playing field and leveling outcomes where socio economic disadvantage could be a factor. Equalities minister Harriet Harman insisted that new policies would work for the middle classes as well as those from disadvantaged groups.

Policies addressing social mobility are as follows:-


* An injection of £57m to extend free childcare for disadvantaged two year olds - a further step towards the Government's long term ambition to make a free early learning and childcare place available to all two year olds
* All vulnerable pregnant mums to have access to a dedicated family nurse to help through pregnancy and first 2 years

* New £10k bonuses to get and keep the most effective teachers in the schools that need them the most, which could reach more than 500 schools and 6000 teachers a year

* Creating 35,000 new apprenticeship places so that all qualified young people will have a right to an apprenticeship by 2013
* A new guarantee for high potential young people from low income backgrounds to get the help they need to get to university
* Full time community volunteering programme for people not in education, employment or training in 33 local authorities

* Establishing a Panel that will identify and remove the barriers that prevent fair access to professional jobs
* Enable professionals to retrain and gain new skills by trebling the number of Professional and Career Development Loans from 15,000 to 45,000 in the next two years

* £500 back to work training entitlement for parents and carers
* Employment support programme for young people leaving care
* £15million communities fund to tackle deprivation on the worst estates and build thriving and sustainable communities.

A further proposal which will have some teeth is to include a commitment to reducing socio economic inequality alongside the existing public sector legal duties to reduce inequalities. The forthcoming Single equalities bill could be amended to include such proposals. The white paper states:-

"Given the important role public policies and services play in supporting individuals to make the most of their talents, we will consider legislating to make clear that tackling socio-economic disadvantage and narrowing gaps in outcomes for people from different backgrounds is a core function of public services,"

Speaking at the Fabian Society conference Harriet Harman confirmed that public bodies could be in breach of their duty if they ignore evidence of socio-economic disadvantage or do not consider the issue in planning resources.

"The government has long had duties such as narrowing the ethnic employment gap, or narrowing the pay gap between men and women, or narrowing the opportunity gaps between the disabled and those not disabled, but what we have not focused on is the family in which you are born or where you come from. If the public sector can rightly have a duty in relation to gender, ethnicity and disability, it should have the same duty in relation to socio-economic status."

There is certainly a strong statement of intent from the government to make socio economic considerations and equality of outcome central to its Equality and Diversity policies in the future. The question remains will the current regime be around long enough to implement it? Could the policy also prove to be a major factor in gaining support from economically disadvantaged? – which could be most of us before the next election. Images of carrots and sticks may be appropriate here.

Either way socio economic disadvantage or what we at Diversity Link prefer to call equality of outcome may certainly find itself alongside gender, race, disability. age, sexuality and other so called major equality strands in the future.  The question remains why wasn’t it there in the first place?


Posted by Asif Yusuf



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