The Government has published details about how the socio-economic duty in the Single Equality Act will transform the way public bodies work to narrow the gaps between rich and poor and make society fairer.
The Act will impose a new legal duty on public bodies, including central government and local authorities, to consider the impact their strategic decisions will have on narrowing socio-economic inequalities.
With the average life expectancy in the poorest areas of the country up to 13 years shorter than in the most affluent areas, the duty will require public bodies to consider how they can reduce the barriers that hold people back, block aspirations and prevent people fulfilling their potential.
A Government policy statement on how the duty will operate provides some examples of best practice:
In education: Knowing that children who eat well perform better at school, but that children from poorer backgrounds are less likely to do this, Newham council is running a pilot scheme to provide free school meals to all primary school children. They take this approach because a significant number of children in Newham are from deprived backgrounds and providing free meals for all children helps them to increase take up by tackling the stigma that can go hand in hand with free school meals. All families save money and all children get a nutritious meal once a day, benefiting both their health and their behaviour.
In provision of healthcare: After studying data which shows that life expectancy is lower in the 70 most deprived local authorities around the country, the Department of Health has taken action. They are providing tailored, intensive support to the primary care trusts in those areas, allocating them additional funding and closely tracking progress.
Deputy Prime Minister Harriet Harman said:
"A person's socio-economic background is still a key factor in determining their life chances - how they get on at school, the chances of continuing with their education, their employment prospects and their health.
"This new legal duty will fall on every strategic body that affects these life chances and will be a catalyst for change so that more people have a better chance to enjoy a higher standard of living.
"Improving opportunities for everyone will be at the core of all key public services, and is a crucial part of the Equality Act."
[Continued in Single Equality Act: The Socio-Economic Duty - Part 2.]