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On Wednesday 13 October we were invited by North East Child Poverty Commission and Thrive Teesside to take part in a panel discussion on, ‘Challenging poverty in the North East: A rights-based approach’ as part of Challenge Poverty Week and Action on Human Rights Week.

Helen Flynn, our Head of Policy, Campaigns and Research joined Tracey Herrington (Manager, Thrive Teesside), Cllr Joyce McCarty (Cabinet Member for Inclusive Economy, Newcastle City Council) and Rob Williamson (Chief Executive, Community Foundation Tyne & Wear and Northumberland) to talk about how the adoption of the socio-economic duty could help to challenge poverty and inequality.

In her presentation, Helen examined what inequality is, how it manifested in the UK and specifically in the North East of England and why and how inequality impacts negatively in our society (see for example the work of Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson in The Spirit Level). Helen then looked at the socio-economic duty in the Equality Act 2010 and the benefits of implementing it. She wrapped up  by highlighting the key the key lessons from the guide we published with our 1ForEquality partners ‘A Practical Guide for Local Authority Implementation of the Socio-Economic Duty in England’.

Tracey from Thrive Teesside spoke powerfully about the importance of ensuring the skills and knowledge of those residents with lived experience of socio-economic disadvantage is part of every stage of policy design and implementation. Tracey reflected some of the thoughts of the members of the communities she works with, including their desire to have their skills and experience to be used, to have an ongoing involvement in policy design and implementation – rather than seeing one-off consultations and to build a better life not just for themselves, but also for their kids. Tracey noted that their priorities included issues like the stopping of bus services, new charges to use cash machines and trouble accessing GPs.

Councillor Joyce McCarthy gave a history of how Newcastle City Council had come to voluntarily adopt the socio-economic duty, beginning with an agreement in 2012 to take on the duty in strategic needs assessments as a direct response to the impact of deprivation. Joyce noted that rather than impact assessments, the council carries out integrated impact assessments for major decisions, which includes socio-economic disadvantage. Last year, because of this approach, when implementing a council tax rise, they had to look at the specific impact of the rise on those who couldn’t afford it. This led the council to develop a council tax support scheme to protect and support those experiencing socio-economic disadvantage.

The final speaker, Rob Williamson, spoke about the Community Foundation Tyne & Wear and Northumberland’s approach to working to make their leadership, board members and staff more reflective of the community they serve. This included not only looking at the make up of their organisation in terms of protected characteristics, but also finding ways to examine socio-economic background, including using questions the Social Mobility Foundation has developed. The event wrapped up with a lively discussion about the potential that voluntarily implementing the socio-economic duty could unlock.

For more information about the socio-economic duty check out our 1ForEquality page, or get in touch with our Head of Policy Campaigns and Research: [email protected]