Socio Economic Duty Scrapped

Accusing the former Labour Government of political correctness and social engineering, Theresa May Equalities Minister and Home Secretary has confirmed the Socio Economic Duty will be scrapped from the Equality Act earlier this week. 
Alongside the existing public sector duties, the socio economic duty would have demanded public bodies to consider the impact of policy on people from poorer backgrounds, in the same way they currently need to consider the impact of policy decisions on women, minorities and disabled people. While the new Equality Duty (Due for implemented in April 2011) plans to extend considerations to also cover age, religion and belief, sexual orientation and gender reassignment, the socio economic duty, dubbed as socialism in one clause by critics, will be removed.
This is despite findings by the National Equality Panel in their report earlier this year Anatomy of Economic Inequality in the UKoutlining socio economic inequality as a route cause of social disadvantage in the United Kingdom. The report commissioned by the previous government was the most comprehensive research ever published on inequalities.
In a speech at the Coin Street Community Centre in south London, Theresa May explained she wanted to end the top down approach to equality, she commented.
“The idea that they could was symptomatic of Labour's approach to Britain's problems. They thought they could make people's lives better by simply passing a law saying that they should be made better. This was as ridiculous as it was simplistic. And that's why I'm announcing today that we are scrapping Harman's law for good. Just look at the socio-economic duty. In reality, it would have been just another bureaucratic box to be ticked. It would have meant more time filling in forms and less time focusing on policies that will make a real difference to people’s life chances.”
Shadow Equalities Minister, Labour's Yvette Cooper responded by calling the move "A licence to abandon the hardest pressed in society”
90% of the Equality Act was implemented in October 2010 with the remaining parts of the Act due to be enforced at later stages. For those who thought most of the Act would be implemented unchanged this is a wakeup call. The forthcoming revised public sector Equality Duty underwent a consultation in August, and the removal of the socio economic clause is the first major changed announced by the Coalition Government. The consultation is also asking whether public sector organisation should publish more data in their equality outcomes, in order for the public to hold them to account.
Indeed if the Coalition government are looking to reduce the amount of top down bureaucracy it’s feasible the new requirement to publish data could replace the need for Equality Impact Assessments and public sector equality duties for race, gender or any other groups for that matter. Surely when the public can hold organisations to account, why do we need these duties? Could transparency empower the “Big Society” to step in and ensure fairness for all? Could the Big Society idea replace the need for governments to play referee in the outcomes of people’s lives? Will the thought of trial by media get organisations to consider the impact of their decisions on disadvantaged groups more effectively? Or is this all equality on the cheap in the age of austerity?
The public sector Equality Duty is part of the Equality Act 2010 and is planned to come into force in April 2011 current form suggests it’s not unlikely there will be more significant changes. The government are due to announce measures to tackle the gender pay gap in the next two weeks so perhaps more clues then. What is certain now is this government want to reduce the amount interference and compliance Whitehall make with policy decisions, what remains to be seen is if this will be a good thing for Equality and Diversity.  


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