Socio-economic duty: consultation

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

Section 4: Links Between This And Other Duties

The socio-economic duty is one of a number of duties, already set out in legislation, that have a socio-economic focus; the key ones are set out in the box below and illustrated by a diagram over the page. This section asks how public authorities could sensibly approach the links between the different duties, again to inform guidance.

The socio-economic duty should not be seen in isolation from these other duties. It is an overarching duty, which applies to strategic public authorities at a strategic decision-making level. Other duties tend to apply at operational levels.

Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill

The Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill currently includes a duty on local authorities and health boards to publish annual Local Child Poverty Action Reports, setting out action taken to reduce child poverty and drive progress towards the 2030 income targets.

Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014

The Child and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 requires local authorities and health boards to ensure that relevant national outcomes and objectives (including the Child Poverty Strategy) are reflected in Children's Services Plans.

Education (Scotland) Act 2016

The Education (Scotland) Act 2016 amended the Standards in Scotland's Schools etc. Act 2000 to require education authorities to have due regard to the need to carry out school education functions in a way designed to reduce inequalities of outcome for those pupils experiencing them as a result of socio-economic disadvantage.

Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015

The Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 requires Community Planning Partnerships ( CPPs) to act with a view to reducing inequalities of outcome which result from socio-economic disadvantage unless the CPP considers that it would be inappropriate to do so.

Chart: Duties with a Socio-Economic Focus

In addition, public authorities are also subject to other duties on equality and human rights. These also link to socio-economic concerns, as follows.

Equality Act 2010.

The public sector equality duty ( PSED) in the Equality Act 2010 came into force in April 2011: Scottish public authorities must have 'due regard' to the need to eliminate unlawful discrimination, advance equality of opportunity and foster good relations (also known as the General Duty). Scottish Ministers made regulations in May 2012 placing specific duties on Scottish public authorities to enable the better performance of the PSED: these are known as the Scottish Specific Duties.

Both the PSED and the socio-economic duty require 'due regard' ("the conscious direction of the mind towards…") and evidence that due regard has been given.

In the case of the PSED, listed public authorities are required to publish the results of their equality impact assessments and report on progress on the General Duty on a regular basis. The socio-economic duty does not require these approaches, but public authorities will need to be able to demonstrate due regard if challenged.

There is considerable cross-over between equality and socio-economic issues, in the sense that many of the disadvantages faced by particular equality groups are underpinned or made worse by low income. Indeed, discrimination can be a direct cause of socio-economic disadvantage. There are varying degrees of evidence of a correlation between protected characteristics and poverty (in gender, race, disability, faith and belief and sexual orientation) but the reasons for deprivation - and thus the routes out of deprivation - amongst protected characteristics groups may differ significantly from geographical deprived groups. For example, disabled people's poverty could be caused by the additional costs of disability or higher levels of unemployment due to poor or inaccessible public transport. For minority ethnic groups, poverty could be a product of lower levels of economic activity due to higher numbers of students or higher levels of unemployment linked to discrimination. For women, structural issues such as disproportionately low pay, low access to affordable childcare, and occupational segregation could be the cause.

Because of the links between equality and socio-economic duties, each strategic decision would need to be assessed against both. This therefore provides a rationale for considering equality and socio-economic issues in an integrated way, while still making sure that each protected characteristic is considered in depth and with care in any kind of assessment process. We are aware that a number of local authorities are already looking to integrate equality and socio-economic concerns, and that some have recently published socio-economic focused outcomes alongside their equality outcomes. This could also help streamline monitoring and reporting.

We would be interested to hear more from public authorities and others on how they make the most of connections between these cross-cutting areas to improve policy development and reduce inequality.

Human rights legislation.

There are obvious links too between the socio-economic duty and human rights.

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights was ratified by the UK in 1976. The Covenant contains some of the most significant international legal provisions establishing economic, social and cultural rights relating to:

  • Work in just and favourable conditions
  • Social protection
  • An adequate standard of living
  • The highest attainable standards of physical and mental health
  • Education
  • Enjoyment of the benefits of cultural freedom and scientific progress

The Scottish Government updates the United Nations on progress towards implementing and observing international human rights standards by including a distinctive Scottish contribution in formal UK reports to the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The Scottish Government was also represented as part of the UK delegation in Geneva during a review of the UK under the Covenant in June 2016. Following this review, the UN Committee included the following recommendation in its set of concluding observations: [7]

"The Committee recommends that the State party bring into force the relevant provisions of the Equality Act that refer to the public authorities' duty with respect to socioeconomic disadvantage, as well as with respect to the prohibition of intersectional discrimination, in order to enhance and guarantee full and effective protection against discrimination in the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights.."

As can be seen, there are evident connections between the Covenant and the Scottish Government's aspirations for the socio-economic duty and, as with equality responsibilities, it is worth considering how these responsibilities could be part of an integrated framework.

QUESTION 4A - Once the socio-economic duty is introduced, the Scottish Government is keen for public authorities to look strategically across all planning processes in place to maximise their impact. What could public authorities and the Scottish Government do to make sure that the links between the different duties are managed effectively within organisations?

QUESTION 4B - Can you offer examples of good practice in taking an integrated approach to issues such as poverty, equality, and human rights?


Email: Karen Armstrong,

Phone: 0300 244 4000 – Central Enquiry Unit

The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House
Regent Road

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