Socio-economic duty: consultation

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

Section 3: Meeting The Requirements Of The Duty

This section sets out initial thinking about the kinds of steps public authorities could take to show they are meeting the duty. The Equality Act 2010 sets out that public authorities must take into account guidance issued by Scottish Ministers (see below).

1 Public sector duty regarding socio-economic inequalities […]

(2) In deciding how to fulfil a duty to which it is subject under subsection (1), an authority must take into account any guidance issued in accordance with subsection (2A).

(2A) The guidance to be taken into account under subsection (2) is-

(a) in the case of a duty imposed on an authority in relation to devolved Scottish functions, guidance issued by the Scottish Ministers;

To help develop guidance, we have set out a number of steps that we know some public authorities are already taking and would welcome your views on these. This list is not definitive and will be amended or added to, based on your responses.

Step 1: Identifying which strategic decisions public authorities take

A first task for named authorities under the duty will be to identify which strategic decisions they take, as a matter of course. This will then allow time to build in evidence gathering and assessment in advance. Public authorities already routinely do this kind of work when considering their role and contribution to community planning and in helping to shape the priorities for specific places which will be set out in Local Outcome Improvement Plans. Section 1 of this paper includes some initial suggestions on what might constitute a strategic area for decision-making.

One area set out in Section 1 is budget setting. The Scottish Government already publishes analysis of the impacts of spending decisions on low income households in its suite of documents as part of the annual Draft Budget. This is fairly high level analysis, however, and a more detailed account could be provided. We are interested to hear how public authorities and others consider issues of socio-economic inequality when setting annual budgets.

Step 2: Identifying inequalities of outcome caused by socio-economic disadvantage

In any strategic decision-making process, public authorities need to be aware of the inequalities of outcome, caused by socio-economic disadvantage, that they are dealing with in each case.

There are a range of ways in which authorities can build this awareness. They already have access to a wide range of relevant quantitative data and other evidence including, for example, the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation, local child poverty estimates, and employment data, as well as their own administrative data. Some public authorities will have access to richer data than others - for example, local authorities may be able to use Council Tax Reduction, free school meals and Housing Benefit data that others may not have access to. Public authorities should make full use of the data they hold or can access when considering how to exercise their responsibilities under the duty.

A second way to gather evidence about the key inequalities of outcome is to set up a specific body for this purpose. A number of local authorities and Community Planning Partnerships have introduced fairness or poverty commissions at local level to demonstrate strategic foresight. We strongly support these commissions as good examples of strategic thinking and analytical insight. We would be interested to hear whether other public authorities would consider establishing fairness/poverty commissions of some kind in order to help strengthen their strategic approaches, thereby demonstrating a commitment to the principles of the duty.

A third way to understand inequalities of outcome is to involve communities themselves, including the experiences of people with direct experience of poverty. Fairness Commissions have often brought in community experiences into the heart of how they work and this is to be commended. In addition, the Scottish Government already funds the Poverty Truth Commission to bring the voices of people with that lived experience into policy making and we are shortly to announce funding for three new similar bodies based locally. Involving communities in the big decisions public authorities make is key to getting decisions right and making sure they do have the positive outcomes we all want. But of course, this has to be done appropriately and sensitively and we would be interested in your views on how to do this well.

Step 3: Exercising the duty during decision-making

Public authorities covered by the duty must be able to show how they are meeting its requirements. There must therefore be a clear audit trail for all decisions of a strategic nature, including an assessment of impacts on reducing inequalities of outcome, caused by socio-economic disadvantage, for any strategic decision. 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.

Note that there is also an expectation that 'due regard' is given both by staff at the formation of any strategy/plan/programme and by decision makers at its adoption .

Public authorities could also choose to produce and publish impact assessments, which may mean, for example, making adjustments to existing Equality Impact Assessments. Published assessments would provide stakeholders with a consistent approach and a degree of scrutiny on individual decisions. We would be interested to hear about others' best practice on impact assessments, particularly where issues such as equality and low income are considered in an integrated way, to help us consider this further.

Step 4: Monitoring the Impact over the longer term

Our view is that it is not sensible to try to identify another measurement framework to monitor the impact of the socio-economic duty which is a broad ranging strategic duty. A number of frameworks already publish key poverty and outcomes data at a strategic level, the main one at a national level being the Scottish Government's National Performance Framework and at a local level the various frameworks and plans of Community Planning Partnerships. There is scope to further develop the analysis and understanding of inequalities of outcomes related to socio-economic disadvantage but our view is that this should be done through continuous improvement to existing monitoring systems rather than developing new frameworks.

The Scottish Government recognises that some stakeholders believe the socio-economic duty should be strengthened so that a) all of the public sector is brought under the duty and b) the provisions of the duty have broader scope - for example, to place the socio-economic duty on more of a level with existing equality duties, including on enforcement. However, this would require new Scottish legislation and the Scottish Government has not yet reached a view on whether this is necessary or proportionate. Ministers will consider evidence of how public authorities have responded to the duty in its initial period of operation before determining how to proceed in future years.

QUESTION 3A - Do you have any comments on the steps set out in SECTION 3?

QUESTION 3B - What other actions could public authorities take to demonstrate that they are meeting the duty?

QUESTION 3C - Could you offer suggestions as to how public authorities could improve budgetary analysis and reporting so as to take better account of inequalities related to socio-economic disadvantage?

QUESTION 3D - Can you offer examples of how public authorities and others have made best use of the expertise of people with direct experience of poverty?

QUESTION 3E - What kind of guidance and support on meeting the duty would be most useful for public authorities?

QUESTION 3F - Do you have a view on whether public authorities should use existing monitoring frameworks to track whether the socio-economic duty is making a difference to outcomes over the long term?


Email: Karen Armstrong,

Phone: 0300 244 4000 – Central Enquiry Unit

The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House
Regent Road

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