Lessons from the Campaign to Bring the Socio-Economic Duty to Life in England

Dr. Koldo Casla, Lecturer in Law, University of Essex

The UK government proudly affirms that the country has some of the strongest equalities legislation in the world, particularly the Equality Act 2010. For it to be true, however, the government should implement the legislation in its entirety, including the socio-economic duty, proclaimed in Section 1 of the Act.

The socio-economic duty would require public authorities to actively consider how their decisions and policies of the highest strategic importance can increase or decrease inequalities of outcome. Regrettably, successive governments have failed to commence the duty, and therefore it is not technically binding on public authorities. It is encouraging that the duty was brought to life in Scotland in 2018 and the Welsh Government has announced they will follow suit in 2020.

The socio-economic duty can be a useful lever to understand and address the structural causes of material inequalities and their negative effects on human rights and well-being.

This article presents and draws conclusions from the strategic choices made by the people running a national campaign to bring the socio-economic duty to life. The article introduces four key factors that contributed to making progress between 2017 and 2019, despite the limited resources available: a) the added value of merging advocacy and epistemic communities working on equality and on human rights; b) the engagement with political actors at key stages of the process; c) the combination of ‘naming and shaming’ and best practice; and d) the celebration of smaller victories along the way.

You can read more in: Koldo Casla, ‘#1forEquality: The Story of an Unlikely Victorious Campaign in the Making’ (2019) 11(3) Journal of Human Rights Practice 554. 

The socio-economic duty, and this article in particular, are cited in an Amicus in front of the Supreme Court of Mexico on the State’s duty to include informal settlements in the census and other appropriate data collection. The Amicus is presented by Dr Koldo Casla and nine national and international organisations that are part of the International Network of NGOs for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR-Net).

You can also read ‘Time to listen to people with lived experience of poverty and bring the socio-economic duty to life’, a chapter written by Koldo Casla together with colleagues from Just Fair, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the University of York and Thrive Teesside, in UNISON’s recent publication (pp. 83-90) on the commemoration of the pledge made two decades ago to end child poverty in the UK this year. (Spoiler alert: It didn’t happen, and in fact, the country moved in the opposite direction in recent years).

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