Socio-economic duty: consultation

We are seeking your views on how public bodies are working to tackle poverty and inequality.


About the Socio-Economic Duty

The socio-economic duty asks particular public authorities to do more to tackle the inequalities of outcome caused by socio-economic disadvantage. In particular, the duty aims to make sure that strategic decisions about the most important issues are carefully thought through so that they are as effective as they can be in tackling socio-economic disadvantage and reducing inequalities of outcome. These strategic decisions would include, for example, an economic development strategy; or an annual budget setting out key investment choices.

These key terms (in bold above) are defined in more detail in Section 1 of this paper.

Strategic public authorities - those that tend to be the most influential - will be covered by the duty. They will have the opportunity to show that they both understand the key socio-economic inequality gaps and have taken account of them in the decisions they make. The strategic bodies covered by the duty are set out in Section 2 of this paper.

The main outcome that the Scottish Government is looking for from the introduction of the duty is improved decision-making that genuinely leads to better outcomes for those experiencing disadvantage. We will know if inequalities are reducing from the range of statistics we publish on a regular basis, including indicators on poverty, education, crime, health and income in the National Performance Framework and the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation. However, we recognise that some public authorities will need help and advice, so questions on how public authorities can fulfil their responsibilities under the duty, to inform the production of guidance, are set out in Section 3 .

To show how the duty might work in practice, three case studies are set out in an Annex at the back of this consultation paper. These may help you answer some of the broader questions in the consultation document.

The case for introducing the socio-economic duty is compelling. The public sector already does a lot of important work on poverty and inequality. But the scale of the challenge we face as a country is huge. Over a million people are living in poverty in Scotland, including one in four children; and, as shown below, inequalities of income and wealth are persistent, with knock-on impacts on a wider range of outcomes.


Source: Wealth and Assets Survey 2006-2014

Background to the Socio-Economic Duty

The socio-economic duty has a complicated history. It was first introduced in legislation in April 2009 when the last UK Labour Government published an Equality Bill. The Bill included provision for a socio-economic duty ("the duty") to be introduced. The duty was put into statute as Section 1 of the Equality Act 2010. [1]

The intention of the then government was to bring together the duty on socio-economic disadvantage with duties on equality (from the same Act of Parliament), and child poverty (from the Child Poverty Act 2010). These three strands together would help the public sector build a fairer UK.

However, this did not turn out as planned. Soon after taking office, the UK Coalition (Conservative and Liberal Democrat) Government decided not to commence the socio-economic duty. To date, the duty has not been introduced in any part of the UK. Then, in 2015, the Conservative Government removed the child poverty elements from the Child Poverty Act 2010, renaming it the 'Life Chances Act'. This means that, of the three strands introduced in 2010, only the equality duties are actually in place.

In Scotland, we are taking a different approach. The Scottish Government now intends to introduce the socio-economic duty here. Following recommendations by the Smith Commission, the power to commence the duty was included within the Scotland Act 2016 [2] and that power transferred to Scottish Ministers on 23rd May 2016.

The Scottish Government has also introduced a Child Poverty Bill to the Scottish Parliament, [3] which effectively reinstates the requirements of the Child Poverty Act 2010, but in a more ambitious way. This means that, in Scotland at least, there is now the opportunity to realise the original ambition and bring together the various duties on equality, socio-economic disadvantage and child poverty.

The Scottish Government's plan to introduce the socio-economic duty was set out in the Fairer Scotland Action Plan (October 2016), with time for consultation and further development of guidance on how the duty should be operationalised. Subject to this consultation, the Scottish Government plans to commence the duty by end 2017.

The socio-economic duty places an overarching requirement on strategic public bodies, or 'public authorities' as the legislation refers to them; this is the term we've used in this consultation paper to refer to this strategic part of the public sector.

The duty in the context of public service reform

The socio-economic duty is set in the broader context of Scottish public service reform. High quality public services are at the heart of the Scottish Government's work to shape a fairer society and deliver our national outcomes. Our approach puts people and communities at the heart of public service delivery and policy making and is designed to tackle the causes of disadvantage, not simply its consequences.

Building on the foundations established by the Christie Commission in 2011, our approach to Public Service Reform is underpinned by the four pillars of reform - prevention, people, partnership and performance. These pillars provide the strategic context and drive for all of the Government's key initiatives that aim to improve the lives of disadvantaged people across Scotland, including this new duty.

Developing from these pillars and key to the success of this new duty are the following principles:

  • Reforms must empower people and communities receiving public services by involving them in the design and delivery of the services they use;
  • Providers of public services must work much more closely in partnership to integrate service provision and so improve the outcomes they achieve;
  • We must prioritise expenditure on public services which prevent negative outcomes from arising;
  • And our whole system of public services - public, third and private sectors - must become more efficient by reducing duplication, improving performance and sharing services wherever possible.

The socio-economic duty is one of a number of public sector duties with a socio-economic focus. It is an overarching duty, which applies to strategic public authorities at a strategic decision-making level. Other duties such as the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill and the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 tend to apply more at operational levels, but it is important that the socio-economic duty is not seen in isolation from these other duties. Links between duties are discussed in more detail in Section 4 of this consultation paper.

About this consultation paper

In 2017, Scotland will become the first part of the UK to introduce the socio-economic duty. This consultation paper asks for your help in doing this, ahead of guidance that we will be developing later in the year.

The Scottish Government wants to make sure that this duty is introduced in the right way, so that it can have maximum positive impacts. So it's important to get implementation right and this consultation paper is a key way to make sure we do.

This consultation therefore asks for your views on these issues:

  • Section 1 : Whether you agree with definitions of key terms
  • Section 2 : Which public authorities the duty should apply to
  • Section 3 : What public authorities could do to show they are meeting the duty and
  • Section 4: How public authorities could sensibly approach the links between different duties with a socio-economic focus

We would welcome views from anyone who has an interest in the issues raised by the duty. We would particularly like to hear from people with direct experience of poverty, from public authorities likely to be affected by the duty, and from organisations and individuals working on issues of poverty and disadvantage. An easy read version of the consultation paper is also available on the Scottish Government website. [4]

Some of the questions that follow are targeted more towards the bodies that will be implementing the duty, while others are more general. Anyone can answer any question but please feel free not to answer a question where you don't have a ready answer.

Please note that in order to meet legislative timescales and enable the socio-economic duty to be introduced in 2017, a shorter eight week period has been set for this consultation process.


Email: Karen Armstrong,

Phone: 0300 244 4000 – Central Enquiry Unit

The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House
Regent Road

Back to top