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 By Alexis Darby, Head of Advocacy, Policy, and Research at Greater Manchester Poverty Action (GMPA).

At Greater Manchester Poverty Action (GMPA) we work to reduce and prevent poverty across Greater Manchester. We believe that the socio-economic duty will provide a powerful foundation for a fairer society. As there is an absence of action from national government, we are working with local and combined authorities to increase awareness and voluntary adoption of the duty as a means of creating better outcomes for those with lived experiences of poverty.

In 2021 GMPA and Just Fair published a guide developed in partnership with several organisations for local authorities on socio-economic duty implementation and it has been positive to see some Greater Manchester councils (and a number of councils in other parts of the country) adopting the duty or in the process of doing so.

Our most recent briefing looks at the current scale of the socio-economic duty in England. It sets out the scale of voluntary adoption of the duty by local authorities in England based on FOI requests we conducted.

The findings are encouraging, suggesting that there is considerable potential for widespread voluntary adoption of the duty across England.

A snap-shot of our findings:

  • One in seven councils have voluntarily adopted the socio-economic duty. While this is positive, it would be great to see more councils, especially with the ongoing cost of living crisis, commit to the duty. By adopting the duty they would be explicitly addressing the impact of socio-economic inequality on residents when devising and implementing their policies.
  • While many councils have not formally adopted the duty, a large number are ‘acting in the spirit of the duty’, with over half considering socio-economic status in equality impact assessments and in strategic decision making and policy development. It’s great to see that these local authorities are acting in the ‘spirit’ of the duty and hopefully they can build on this towards full adoption.
  • Local authorities with high levels of child poverty are more likely to have voluntarily adopted the duty. We are pleased that boroughs with high child poverty rates are adopting the duty and thus showing their commitment and responsibility to tackling socio-economic disadvantage.

The findings presented in our briefing and highlighted in this blog show an increased interest in the duty among councils in the aftermath of the pandemic – hopefully suggesting that there is, the potential for widespread adoption.

We believe the socio-economic duty is an important policy lever that can make a real contribution to the reduction of social disadvantage – as it can hold local authorities accountable and ensure that individuals with lived experiences of poverty are being considered in formal decision-making.

We have seen first-hand the difference adopting the duty can make in strengthening strategic responses to poverty in Greater Manchester. Wigan Metropolitan Borough Council told us, “Local authorities need to look at the holistic needs of individuals and families, where multi-inequalities exist, and are often exacerbated by living in poverty. The socio-economic duty helps to ensure a focus on the economic situation of residents, as well as considering social, health and other inequalities, that often co-exist for individuals.”

With a focus on Greater Manchester, the Independent Inequalities Commission recently called for the Greater Manchester Combined Authority to adopt the duty – stating in their recent report that “we applaud the decision of a number of boroughs to implement or consider implementing a duty to promote socio-economic equality (Section 1 of the Equalities Act), as advocated by the Equality Trust and Greater Manchester Poverty Action, and encourage GMCA to do likewise.”

If adopted locally, the socio-economic duty can provide a foundation for a fairer society. Voluntary adoption of the duty can bring a number of benefits including:

  • Improving outcomes for local people experiencing socio-economic disadvantage.
  • Supporting cross organisational and cross-departmental working.
  • Ensuring widespread organisational commitment to, and consideration of, socio-economic inequalities.
  • Achieving greater consistency in practice – and an increased likelihood of maintaining such consistent practice across political administrations and between changes of individual leadership and turnover of staff.
  • Improving systematic approaches to equality impact assessments and assessment of policy and practice more broadly.
  • Strengthening systematic data gathering and analysis, especially in the conduct of equality impact assessments, thereby strengthening accountability.

To find out more about the Socio-economic Duty, check out our campaign page

Background image by Alexandra Ramirez