Research & Opinion

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Why Section 1?

Inequality is harming our society

The UK is one of the most economically unequal countries in the developed world.

The international evidence shows that inequality harms physical and mental health, self-esteem, happiness, sense of trust and civic participation. Unequal societies have less social mobility and higher crime rates.

The most recent data has shown a slight fall in income inequality as a result of extremely low levels of income growth since the beginning of the financial crisis in 2007/08. However, this trend is likely to be reversed when scheduled social security cuts take effect, leading the IFS to predict a 50% rise in child poverty by 2020. Meanwhile, falling or stagnant incomes and growing house prices in the last decade are increasing wealth inequality.

Inequality is not working

“One of the leading economic stories of our time is rising income inequality, and the dark shadow it casts across the global economy.”

Christine Lagarde, IMF managing director, May 2014.

“If you grow the pie but too few people enjoy the benefits of it, the fruit, you’ll have an unstable society.”

Lloyd Blankfein, Chief Exec of Goldman Sachs, June 2014

“High levels of inequality are a problem—messing up economic incentives, tilting democracies in favor of powerful interests, and undercutting the ideal that all people are created equal.”

Bill Gates, October 2014

“We meet today during the first lost decade since the 1860s. […] When combined with low growth of incomes and entrenched intergenerational inequity, it is no wonder that many question their prospects.”

Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, December 2016

“Growing income and wealth disparity is seen by respondents as the trend most likely to determine global developments over the next 10 years.”

World Economic Forum Global Risks Report, January 2017

Inequality undermines human rights, individual agency and freedom

Inequality, particularly when it grows, suggests that the right policies are not in place to ensure an adequate standard of living and the improvement of the enjoyment of human rights for all.

Equality, however, is not only about resources and needs. It is also about freedom. Equality is of paramount importance for meaningful choice in a free society.

More equality means more autonomy and more agency. A more equal society can empower more people to take control over their lives.

Inequality is not inevitable: The Government has a powerful tool at its disposal

The Equality Act 2010 consolidated anti-discrimination legislation to require equal treatment in private and public services, and access to employment, for the protected characteristics of age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation.

So what about economic inequalities? Section 1 of the Equality Act introduced a socio-economic duty on public bodies that required them:

‘when making decisions of a strategic nature about how to exercise its functions’ to ‘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.’

Compelling public bodies to consider how their decisions and actions could exacerbate or reduce inequality would help to shield the most vulnerable and level the playing field between people from different socio-economic backgrounds.

However, despite being passed by Parliament in 2010, the Governments since then have refused to bring section 1 into force.

Following later amendments, if commenced now, the socio-economic duty would apply to ministers; Government departments; county, district and borough councils in England (and the Isles of Scilly); the Greater London Authority and police and crime commissioners.

Why now?

On the steps of Downing Street, the Prime Minister set out her agenda to tackle social injustice and make ours “a country that works not for a privileged few but for every one of us”.

Her vision for a ‘shared society’ would be more effectively advanced if her Government brought to life the socio-economic duty currently lying dormant in statute.

The Scottish Government has already announced that it will legislate this year to introduce the socioeconomic duty. When adopted, the Wales Act 2017 will confer this power on the Welsh Government.

The international community also expects action. In 2015, together with other countries, the UK pledged as part of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals to ensure equal opportunity and reduce inequalities of outcome. The UK has also ratified a number of treaties promising to deliver equality and non-discrimination. Unfortunately, the UK is falling short on too many grounds.

We call on the UK Government to commence section 1. Fully in force, the Equality Act would require transparent assessments of how public bodies’ policies and decisions contribute to our unequal outcomes – and how they could help to close the gap.

Are you #1forEquality?

Ask the Government to commence section 1 of the Equality Act

Equality matters to human rights. We need a socio-economic duty

This post was published first on The Equality Trust blog on 25 January, 2017.
The UK is one of the most unequal societies in Europe. Even though decreasing unemployment and low inflation have reduced income inequality for now, unfair taxes, stagnant incomes and unaffordable housing risk enlarging the wealth gap.
It is not only about raw data. Inequality is widely perceived as a growing problem in society. According to the 2016 British Social Survey, more than 76% of the people believe there is a wide divide between social classes.
Abundant empirical research shows how bad inequality can be for general economic stability, criminality, individual self-esteem, mental health, sense of trust and civic participation.
Many of these issues are closely connected to human rights.
Equality is of paramount importance for individual freedom and meaningful choice in a free society, and growing inequality within a country suggests that its government is not doing everything in its power to guarantee an adequate standard of living for all.
Public authorities must safeguard not only formal equality but also substantive equality. They must protect equality in the law, but also adopt the necessary policies to address the underlying causes that fuel economic and social disparities.
In 2015, together with other countries the UK pledged to ensure equal opportunity and reduce inequalities of outcome (Sustainable Development Goal No. 10). The UK has also ratified a number of treaties promising to abide by the principle of equality and non-discrimination, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
However, the UN body that monitors states’ compliance with this treaty concluded in its 2016 report that the Government has not done everything within its power regarding non-discrimination.
Specifically, the UN asked the Government to bring the Equality Act 2010 to life in full.
We need evidence-based policies to reduce inequality and support human rights, and we need such policies to be adopted at all levels of government. Section 1 of the Equality Act provides this by calling on public authorities to aim at the reduction of the inequalities of outcome that result from socio-economic disadvantage.
Section 1 should be part of the Prime Minister’s vision of a “shared society”. The Government failed to implement this socio-economic duty in 2010, but it is not too late. There is a perfect opportunity to announce the commencement of section 1 in the green paper on social justice, expected in February.
Both in principle and in practical terms, equality matters to human rights, and human rights matter to equality.
We in Just Fair are excited to work together with The Equality Trust and others advocating the implementation of section 1 of the Equality Act.
Koldo Casla is Policy, Research and Training Officer at Just Fair, which monitors and advocates economic and social rights in the UK. Koldo tweets as @koldo_casla, and you can follow Just Fair at @JustFairUK.