Public bodies to help close gap between rich and poor

8 Jan 10
A new legal requirement, due to be debated by Parliament next week, will force public bodies to do more to reduce the gap between rich and poor
By Vivienne Russell

8 January 2010

A new legal requirement, due to be debated by Parliament next week, will force public bodies to do more to reduce the gap between rich and poor.

The socioeconomic duty forms clause one of the Equality Bill, which reaches committee stage in the Lords on January 11. The duty aims to help reduce the 13-year gap in life expectancy between people living in the poorest and richest areas.

 A person’s socioeconomic background also has a bearing on their employment prospects, health and overall life chances.

 The government today set out more details of how the duty will work. It will apply to bodies with a strategic decision-making function, including government departments, regional development agencies, local authorities, strategic health authorities and primary care trusts.

 Equality minister Harriet Harman said: ‘This new legal duty will fall on every strategic body that affects these [socioeconomic] 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 Bill.’

 Under the provision, public bodies will be required to consider the impact their decisions will have on reducing socioeconomic inequalities by considering evidence and relevant courses of action.

 If a public body makes a decision that will widen the gap between rich and poor they will be asked to explain their rationale if challenged. Compliance with the new duty will be overseen by the Audit Commission and other public sector inspectorates.

 Detailed statutory guidance on the new duty, which is expected to come into force in April 2011, will be published in the summer.

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