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On Wednesday 24 May 2023, Rother District Council became the latest local authority in England to voluntarily adopt the Socio-economic Duty, contained in Section 1 of the Equality Act. 

The Duty is an important tool for tackling inequalities resulting from socio-economic disadvantage (read more here).   With our partners in the 1ForEquality campaign, Just Fair has been campaigning for the UK Government to commence the Duty and encourage and support its voluntary adoption by local authorities across England.

The voluntary adoption of the Duty marks the latest milestone in a very conscious journey by Rother District Council to tackle socio-economic inequality.

Rother’s Anti-Poverty Strategy

In 2019 the newly elected Rother Labour Group began calls for an Anti-Poverty Strategy, as part of the ‘Rother Alliance‘ coalition, and later that year the Anti-Poverty Task and Finish Group was established. During the pandemic years, consultations were held with local organisations and stakeholders. Following this, a strategy was drafted and put out to consultation. A final version of the Anti-Poverty Strategy for 2022-2027 was adopted by Rother District Council in September 2022.  

Taking the next step – the Socio-economic Duty

But the journey towards a fairer Rother was only beginning.

In September 2022 the Chair of the Anti-Poverty Task and Finish Group, Councillor Sam Coleman, also proposed that Rother District Council voluntarily adopt the Duty, noting,

“Further work is needed to address more immediate problems that have developed in part because of the financial fall out of the Covid-19 pandemic and the current cost of living crisis, both of which have occurred since the initial remit of the Anti-Poverty Strategy was developed.”

During his time working on Rother’s Anti-Poverty Strategy, Councillor Coleman had taken part in Greater Manchester Poverty Action’s work on anti-poverty strategies (read more about this here), where he was introduced to the Socio-economic Duty.

In seeking levers to compliment the Anti-Poverty Strategy to better tackle socio-economic inequality, Councillor Coleman became an advocate for the voluntary adoption of the Duty by Rother District Council.

Making Rother fairer for all – adopting the Socio-economic Duty

During the Council session on 24 May 2023, Councillor Coleman noted that in adopting the Duty,

“We are sending a message to our residents that we care.”

In seconding the motion, his colleague, Councillor Bayliss added,

“The Duty is far more than a symbolic gesture. It strengthens our commitment to make Rother fairer for all.”

On Rother’s voluntary adoption of the Duty, Graham Whitman, Chief Executive Officer of Greater Manchester Poverty Action commented,

“Greater Manchester Poverty Action has been working hard with local authorities and other public bodies across the city region on voluntary adoption of the socio-economic duty. In the aftermath of the pandemic and in the context of the cost-of-living crisis, more and more public service delivery organisations are recognising the intersection between socio-economic disadvantage and equalities issues. They want support and tools to ensure policy and practice takes into account the needs of low-income residents. The socio-economic duty has an important role to play in this.
We’ve been pleased to work closely with Just Fair, The Equality Trust and others to increase awareness of the Duty beyond Greater Manchester. We were delighted to hear that our conversations with Rother District Council led to them adopting the Duty. It illustrates the value of sharing local approaches that respond to socio-economic disadvantage.”

In the journey Rother District Council is taking they have shown there are many actions local authorities can take to ensure greater fairness, and tools such as anti-poverty strategies and voluntary adoption of the Socio-economic Duty can complement each other in this regard.

We look forward to seeing the difference the Duty makes for Rother.