Socio-economic duty: consultation

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

Section 1: Defining The Key Terms Of The Duty

About the socio-economic duty

This consultation paper asks for views on how public authorities can meet the requirements of the duty as it is currently defined. The key section in legislation is as follows:

(1) An authority to which this section applies must, when making decisions of a strategic nature about how to exercise its functions, have due regard to the desirability of exercising them in a way that is designed to reduce the inequalities of outcome which result from socio-economic disadvantage. [5]

This text below defines the key terms in this section. These definitions have been developed from guidance from other Scottish duties and from a guide published by the UK Government alongside its original Equality Bill.

We would be interested in any views on these definitions. An opportunity to comment on the definitions is provided at the end of the section.

Socio-economic disadvantage. Being 'socio-economically disadvantaged' means living in less favourable social and economic circumstances than others in the same society. Features of socio-economic disadvantage can include low income and living in a deprived area.

Socio-economic disadvantage is not always experienced in neat concentrations of people in recognisable communities - it may apply to particular communities of place, communities of interest or even individual households. This is an important distinction to make: two out of three people who are income deprived do not live in deprived areas and just under one in three people living in a deprived area are income deprived.

We would therefore expect public authorities to focus on communities within particular disadvantaged places; but also within particular disadvantaged communities of interest - such as young people leaving care; disabled people; or people from minority ethnic communities. We would also expect public authorities to focus on the specific nature of socio-economic disadvantage for people in rural, remote and island areas.

Inequalities of outcome. By inequalities of outcome, we mean any measurable differences in what happens to people through their lives - for example, in relation to their health and life expectancy, or their educational attainment. Socio-economically disadvantaged households have a higher risk of experiencing poor outcomes. For example, we know that in Scotland:

  • In the most affluent areas, 81% of Scottish school leavers are qualified to Higher level or above, compared with 43% in the most deprived areas.
  • Men in the most affluent areas experience 23.8 more years of good health compared to men living in the most deprived areas. Similarly, women in the most affluent areas experience 22.6 more years of good health compared to women living in the most deprived areas.

Outcomes for individuals are complex and derived from a range of interlinked factors. First, they can relate to the existing institutional, cultural and market structural factors that affect wider life chances (for example, levels of educational attainment; levels of unemployment; nature of employment, experiences of crime, life expectancy, levels of poverty and income inequality). Second, they can relate to decisions made nationally or locally about the availability of goods and services - for example, how money is spent locally, whether good quality affordable housing is available locally, the number of police allocated to a particular area, or the range of career progression opportunities in the local area. And, third, of course, particular equality considerations (age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation) can lead to inequalities of outcome being widened further in some cases. These three sets of factors are inter-related. Decision making can change the shape of institutional and market structures, whilst structures can impact on both the nature of decisions made and the outcome for individuals.

As such, outcomes may be the result of a particular strategy or policy or practice, or related to the fact that no such strategy or policy is in place.

In carrying out this duty, we would expect public authorities to tackle the range of inequalities of outcome they observe in their area. In some cases, an effective way to do this will mean tackling socio-economic disadvantage directly by, for example, reducing poverty.

Authorities will also need to be mindful that the socio-economic duty applies to both 'physical communities' and 'communities of interest' and that the experience of socio economic disadvantage and the approaches to tackling poverty and inequality of outcome will need to be tailored accordingly.

The diagram below illustrates how the duty can help tackle both inequalities of outcome and socio-economic disadvantage.

Chart: Socio-economic Disadvantage

Decisions of a strategic nature. These are the key, high-level decisions that determine how an organisation goes about its business and many of these decisions may be made in the context of reform and improving outcomes for service users. In general, they will be decisions that affect how the public authority fulfils its intended purpose, over a significant period of time.

These would normally include decisions about setting priorities and targets, allocating resources, and commissioning services. For some organisations, such decisions may only be taken annually. In other cases, they will come up more often. Decisions of a strategic nature will have a major impact on the way in which other tactical and day-to-day operational decisions are taken; but they are not in themselves tactical or operational.

Over the page are some examples of strategic decision making where public authorities should explicitly consider their socio-economic responsibilities.

For a local authority

  • Preparation of the Local Development Plan [6]
  • Production of a housing strategy or business plan
  • Economic development/ regeneration strategy
  • City deals or other major investment plans

For an Integration Joint Board

  • Development of their strategic commissioning plan
  • Investment decisions
  • Policies to address health inequalities
  • Location of key facilities

For a Police Authority

  • Crime prevention strategy
  • Stop & search
  • Community engagement strategies

For all

  • Cross cutting or specific policies which address issues which impact on deprived communities. For example, for groups (the Race Equality Framework and Disability Delivery Plan) or for sectors (regional transport strategies.

Due regard. Commonly, legislation places a duty on somebody (an individual or a body corporate) to "have regard" to certain considerations when making a decision. In order for somebody to "have due regard", not only must they consider the issue but it must be given weight which is proportionate to its relevance.

The socio-economic duty is designed to strike a balance and the Scottish Government does not want to be overly prescriptive. We recognise the need for public authorities to operate within their financial thresholds and to adopt policies which are coherent and complementary. The "due regard" requirement does not take precedence over these matters but operates within that context. It requires that public authorities explore how they might reduce inequalities in outcome for those who experience socio-economic disadvantage.

The duty will not necessarily require public authorities to spend additional resources; nor will they necessarily need to rethink existing projects or programmes, or develop new ones, although they may choose to do that in some cases.

They will need to balance the requirements of the duty - that they consider the desirability of reducing the unequal outcomes that result from socio-economic disadvantage - with their other objectives. With this in mind, it is not necessary for public authorities to demonstrate, with every single action they take, that they are reducing inequalities.

For many public authorities, tackling disadvantage and reducing inequalities in outcomes related to such disadvantage is already part of their core business. For them, the duty will give that part of their work a boost, by giving it a statutory basis where one doesn't exist already; ensuring it remains a priority; and helping them secure commitment and help from key partners.

For other organisations, reducing inequalities in outcomes will be a less obvious part of their remit. Here, the duty will act as a spur for them to assess what role they can play, either alone or in partnership with others, on this important objective.

QUESTION 1 - The key terms defined in this section are:

  • Socio economic disadvantage
  • Inequalities of outcome
  • Decisions of a strategic nature
  • Due regard

Do you agree that the definitions of these terms are reasonable and should be included within the Scottish Government's forthcoming guidance on the socio-economic duty?


Email: Karen Armstrong,

Phone: 0300 244 4000 – Central Enquiry Unit

The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House
Regent Road

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