Publication - Research and analysis

Consultation on the socio-economic duty: analysis of responses

Published: 23 Nov 2017

A summary of responses to the Consultation on the Socio-Economic Duty and the Scottish Government's response.

24 page PDF

429.0 kB

24 page PDF

429.0 kB

Consultation on the socio-economic duty: analysis of responses
Section 3 – Meeting the requirements of the duty

24 page PDF

429.0 kB

Section 3 – Meeting the requirements of the duty

General comments on the steps

General positive comments on the steps were that they are proportionate, helpful, clear, reasonable and logical. Some respondents suggested slightly different steps, including:

  • Determining what socio-economic inequalities exist in a community, and then consider which strategic decisions could conceivably affect that inequality, rather than considering all strategic decisions.
  • Adding an initial step of understanding the broad, overarching terms about the potential for the public authority's work to impact on socio-economic inequality.
  • Adding a step of 'oversight and accountability'

Other suggestions were to:

  • Keep processes similar to those for the equality duty
  • Align with poverty-proofing campaigns being championed by Oxfam Scotland and the Poverty Alliance
  • Provide information to the Scottish public at all levels on how power, income and wealth affect health outcomes, to bring about an acceptance in Scottish society of the need to have policies that redistribute power, wealth and income (and of the need for the Scottish parliament to have the full range of powers necessary to that end).
  • Ensure the focus is not exclusively on low-income
  • Use small scale tests of change, to prevent well-intentioned but ineffective decision making.
  • Use a logic model approach
  • Alignment of processes nationally and locally, to limit duplication of effort ( e.g. in identifying inequalities of outcome) and allow the cumulative impact of decisions to be examined

Data for identifying and monitoring inequalities of outcome

Indicators and data sources

Step 2 suggests three ways of identifying the inequalities of outcome caused by socioeconomic disadvantage. Respondents highlighted that these options should not be seen as mutually exclusive, and that there is a need to look at both quantitative and qualitative data, from a variety of sources, to build a comprehensive picture.

It was proposed that there should be an agreed set of indicators that measure inequalities of outcome, building on the outcomes listed on page 11 of the consultation document, and to have the data for these outcomes collected systematically at a local and national level. For example, using the same indicators as the Equality and Human Rights Commission's Equality Measurement Framework would mean a single set of data could be used for both duties. But it was also recognised that there should be flexibility to allow locally relevant issues to be exposed, and that public authorities should have the ability to use local data, knowledge and expertise to identify inequalities and disadvantage, if this provides a better solution than national datasets.

Respondents identified a range of gaps in, and/or weaknesses of, the existing data, including the need for data to be broken down to local level, and by socioeconomic status. It was highlighted that absence of data does not indicate a lack of need, and that data gaps must be proactively identified and filled. It was suggested that this could be done through the Scottish Government's core and harmonised data agenda, including household income and expenditure questions in the Census, and overcoming perceived barriers ( e.g. data protection) to data sharing and linkage. The data should also be made readily available - for example, via the 'open data' initiative, or the Scottish Government's Equality Evidence Finder. And short and accessible briefings summarising the evidence could be produced.

It was suggested that decision makers would require guidance and support to help them make sense of the available data, including understanding its limitations.

Monitoring impact

Perceived benefits of using existing measurement frameworks to monitor outcomes were that this would increase consistency and avoid duplication of effort, allow comparison of 'before and after', and encourage integration of the duty within wider strategic and operational functions. It was also suggested that guidance must be clear on how the continuous improvement to existing monitoring systems could be achieved.

Some public bodies highlighted the importance of knowing what they would be expected to report on and when, and the possibility of a universal reporting method – and perhaps even a single IT system, building on existing systems – was raised.

Some respondents cautioned that many outcomes will take time to shift, and highlighted the difficulties in attributing changes in outcomes to particular decisions. The risk that focussing solely on a small number of quantitative indicators could lead to 'perverse incentives' and unintended consequences was also raised. It was suggested that monitoring of impact should include 'intermediary' outcomes ( e.g. increased participation, social capital and socio-economic literacy) as well as longer-term outcomes, and that methods for evaluating programmes of complex interventions ( e.g. Realistic Evaluation) should be used.

Poverty commissions

There was wide recognition of the benefits of the existing poverty commissions. The importance of learning from existing research into how they can work most effectively was also highlighted.

Some respondents expressed concern that establishing a local poverty commission should not be seen as mandatory, as there would be resource implications. Limitations of poverty commissions for non-geographically based public authorities and rural areas were also mentioned. It was noted that there are already alternative mechanisms in place that may be just as effective, and suggested that guidance could include examples of best practice and a brief self-assessment exercise, to help authorities decide whether their mechanisms are adequate.

Involving communities

Respondents provided a wide range of examples of, and methods for, making use of the expertise of people with direct experience of poverty and other forms of socio-economic disadvantage. These included:

  • Poverty Truth Commissions
  • Poverty Leadership Panel
  • Service co-design
  • Participatory budgeting, devolved to the lowest community level possible
  • Community Grants
  • The Place Standard tool
  • Community Charrettes
  • Community Forums
  • Tenancy participation forums
  • Online surveys
  • Social media
  • Collective Advocacy
  • Participatory Action Research
  • community development
  • Locality Partnerships
  • Citizens' Assemblies
  • Citizens' Juries

One respondent felt that listing 'involving communities' as the third way of identifying inequalities of outcome suggests that it is lower priority than the other two methods. It was also proposed that community involvement should happen throughout the four steps, and not just as part of step 2, and that implementation of the duties, and development of associated guidance, should be co-designed with people with direct experience of socio-economic disadvantage.

There was widespread recognition of the value of engaging with people with direct experience of socioeconomic disadvantage. However, it was also emphasised that this needed to be done in a meaningful way, including following the National Standards for Community Engagement. It was suggested that public bodies would require support – both financial and in-kind, through guidance and good practice examples – to allow them to engage in a meaningful way.

The important of proactively engage with 'seldom heard' groups was highlighted, to avoid deepening inequalities by further empowering the best organised communities at the expense of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged. This is likely to require community capacity building, as not all communities have the infrastructure in place that allows them to respond to demands to engage effectively or to become partners in local initiatives. It is also important to take into account practical barriers, through covering childcare and travel costs, and going to the people you want to engage with.

Some respondents also highlighted the advantages of deeper and longer-term engagement with a smaller number of people, as this allows them to build their knowledge of the evidence and the complex decision-making context, and their confidence and ability to influence decisions in that context. Stronger links with community organisations were also recommended.

Reporting and accountability

Public authorities covered by the duty must be able to show how they are meeting its requirements. This could be written up as a core component of the decision-making process or a separate report could be produced annually, showing how the authority has met the duty in the decisions it has reached.

Respondents were clear that all reporting should be provided in an accessible format and on an open access basis. There were differing views of suitable vehicles for reporting. Some respondents felt that a separate report was needed, while others suggested incorporating the duty into existing decision making and reporting processes, such as Annual Reports, Local Outcome Implementation Plans, Equality Outcomes and Mainstreaming reports, Public Services Reform Act annual statements on economic growth, and annual planning performance frameworks.

There were also differing views on frequency of reporting – ranging from: every two years, in line with the Equality Outcomes and Mainstreaming reports; to 'quarterly at least', reflecting the fact that strategic decisions will be taken on a rolling basis, justification after the fact must be avoided, and to allow potential challenge and decision to be amended.

Public authorities could also choose to produce and publish impact assessments, which may mean, for example, making adjustments to existing Equality Impact Assessments.

There was broad support for incorporating socioeconomic considerations into existing equality impact assessment processes, as these processes are already in place, and this would allow inter-relationships between socioeconomic and equality characteristics to be considered. It was suggested that a standard integrated impact assessment template may be helpful. Some respondents were of the view that publication of impact assessments should be mandatory, and there was also a concern that Equality Impact Assessments are not always carried out effectively or used to inform decision making, and that there needs to be more done to understand why this is the case, and to correct it.

Some respondents called for external scrutiny of how the duty is being exercised - by monitoring bodies (such as Audit Scotland, the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman, or the Equality and Human Rights Commission), an independent statutory commission, external research consultants, or community representatives. One respondent asked if the Equal Opportunities Committee would be tasked with assessing how Scottish Ministers are exercising the duty. There was also a call for a process that can be followed if someone wishes to challenge a decision made on the basis that it did not demonstrate due regard.

Budgetary analysis and reporting

A range of suggestions for improving budgetary analysis and reporting were provided. These included:

  • Incorporate socioeconomic considerations into equality budgeting processes (although the need for improvements to these processes was also identified)
  • Make more use of participatory budgeting and human rights budgeting
  • Consider the cumulative impact of budget savings on communities
  • Assess the impact of all strategic budget decisions on reducing child poverty
  • Introduce outcome based spending (although a variety of challenges to doing so were identified, and it was suggested that this may be best applied to budgetary decisions that are long term and focused on generational change)
  • Direct funding based on area deprivation
  • Build a better evidence base about longer-term savings to the public purse and spending through effective early action and intervention.
  • Cross-cutting, realigned budgets
  • Further develop the Social Impact Tool developed by the Universities of Glasgow and Heriot Watt
  • Learn from the process of considering community benefits in procurement
  • Learn from Glasgow Caledonian University's use of qualitative methods to understand the social risks of spending cuts for three vulnerable population groups in a small area
  • Learn from initiatives on budget analysis from other countries e.g. Newcastle City Council's 'A Fair Budget for a Fairer City'

A range of barriers were also identified, including:

  • Local Authority budget setting processes happen in extremely tight timescales, due to external factors
  • Most public authorities will not have the necessary expertise and resources to do this analysis
  • Information is not currently available in a format (such as including unit costs) that allows for budget decisions to be fully scrutinised.

Guidance and support

The existing guidance on the equality duty was cited as a helpful model. Respondents made a range of specific suggestions for what should be included in guidance on the duty, including:

  • Mapping and explanation of all of the different acts / duties, their links and interdependencies, and desired outcomes to be carried out by Scottish Government. Prevents duplication of effort from all individual bodies having to do this, and is also likely to be helpful to citizens and communities.
  • Clarifying what human rights are engaged by the delivery of this duty
  • Easy read flow charts
  • Laying out what is expected (mandatory), and what is suggested with scope for interpretation (optional).

It was suggested that there could be two formats of guidance – a more detailed one for analysts and a briefer training document for the wider workforce. It was also proposed that the guidance should be available online, the guidance should be consulted on separately, and it should be regularly reviewed to ensure its ongoing relevance.

Whilst some respondents stated that the guidance needed to be prescriptive, others emphasised that it should be descriptive rather than prescriptive, as different public authorities will need different approaches, and many organisations already have successful initiatives in place

Some respondents wished to see the establishment of an advisory body to undertake knowledge sharing, problem solving and the development of meaningful participation processes, either instead of, or in addition to, a fixed set of guidance. There was also a request for institutions to receive feedback on their reports.

Other suggested methods of support included:

  • Cross-party working groups
  • Roundtable discussions
  • Best practice network or knowledge exchange facility
  • Seminars and conferences - the annual conference organised by the Scottish Government for equality duty practitioners was cited as helpful

Many respondents welcomed the case studies provided in the consultation document, and asked that a wider range of examples could be developed, jointly with public authorities. It was suggested that these should cover:

  • Decisions taken by Scottish Government departments
  • More ambitious and stretching actions
  • Examples of work using Citizens Juries and Participatory Budgeting
  • The multi-dimensional approach needed to address the complex nature of socioeconomic disadvantage
  • How positive interventions aimed at wide segments of the population can widen inequalities if no impact assessment is carried out e.g. rent increases following improvement of social housing
  • A wider focus than just employment and employability

The Equality and Human Rights Commission advised that it is currently commissioning research into the socio economic duties currently in force under the Children & Young People Act 2014, the Community Empowerment Act 2015 and the Education Act 2016. The purpose of the research, due to be published in December 2017, is to learn from the operation and impact of these duties.

It was suggested that training and awareness-raising would be required for a variety of groups, including elected members, and public sector staff at both strategic and practice levels, across a diverse range of functions, including Directors of Finance and Directors of Planning. Public awareness-raising was also proposed.

It was also suggested that public authorities would need to be effectively resourced to implement the duty. The estimated staff resource set out in the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill Financial Memorandum was cited.

Various practical tools that could potentially support the implementation of the duty were mentioned, including NHS Health Scotland's 'Informing Investment to reduce health Inequalities' and 'Maximising the role of the NHS Scotland in reducing health inequalities', and the Oxfam Humankind Index Policy Assessment Tool. One respondent provided a detailed 'Local Democracy Analysis Template'.

Scottish Government response

The comments made in relation to Section 3 are very useful and in some cases very detailed. We will use this feedback to inform the development of guidance. In particular, we would like to note now that it is our intention that training and awareness-raising will be provided to those public bodies subject to the duty to help develop and inform best practice. And, as requested, we will expand the set of case studies, in collaboration with stakeholders, to make the guidance more practical in focus.

We also note the comment about different types of guidance for different audiences, and the strong need for an analytical dimension. We will look at how the Equality Evidence Finder can be expanded to make socio-economic data and analysis more readily available; and of course the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation continues to provide a range of rich data and our analysts are committed to training and outreach to enable local groups and public bodies of all kinds to make the best use of this resource.

The comments on the importance of poverty commissions and local community input and feedback have been noted in particular. We will say more about this in the progress report on the Fairer Scotland Action Plan, which is to be published shortly.