New legislation comes into force on 31 March, making specific Welsh public bodies in Wales subject to the Socio-economic Inequality Duty.
Covered by the Equality Act (Authorities subject to a duty regarding Socio-economic Inequalities) (Wales) Regulations 2021, the duty will apply to “relevant public bodies”, which will probably include local authorities, NHS health boards and trusts and fire and rescue authorities. A full list of those required to comply with the new duty has not yet been published.
The duty is aimed at encouraging better decision making and the ultimate aim is to deliver better outcomes for those who are socio-economically disadvantaged.
The duty will require relevant public bodies, when taking strategic decisions, to have due regard to the need to reduce the inequalities of outcome that result from socio-economic disadvantage. There will, however, be no requirement for relevant public bodies to consider inequalities by people subject to immigration control.
Demonstrating compliance with the duty
Whilst there is no reporting requirement, the duty is statutory. Consequently, local authorities and other public bodies should be able to demonstrate how they have discharged the duty.
The duty will apply both to making new strategic decisions and when reviewing previous strategic decisions. The duty is not retrospective, so the public body will not be required to review decisions which have been made before the law comes into force.
Once the duty is in force, an individual (or group) who feels that the local authority has not properly complied with the duty may bring a judicial review against them.
It is therefore important that public bodies can demonstrate how they have discharged the duty. It is recommenced that local authorities and other public bodies should evidence a clear audit trail for all decisions made where the duty arises.
The Welsh Government’s Non-Statutory Guidance , which you can see here, suggests six questions local authorities should be considering in order to be able to demonstrate that they have had due regard to the duty.
- What evidence has been considered in preparing for the decision? Are there any gaps in the evidence?
- What are the voices of people and communities saying? This should include those with experience of socio-economic disadvantage.
- What does the evidence suggest about the decision’s actual or likely impacts regarding inequalities of outcome as a result of socio-economic disadvantage?
- Are some communities of interest or communities of place more affected by disadvantage in this case than others?
- What does our impact assessment tell us about gender, race, disability and other protected characteristics that we may need to factor into our decisions alongside those suffering socio-economic disadvantage?
- What existing evidence do we have about the proposal being developed, including what could be done differently?
It is important that public bodies engage directly with individuals and communities affected by socio-economic disadvantage to inform their strategic decision making. This could be done through consultation and engagement events.
How can public bodies prepare to meet the duty?
There are a number of steps public bodies can take in preparing to meet the duty. These include identifying the strategic decisions they make and when they are taken and identifying those involved in strategic decision-making processes.
Public bodies should also ensure that those involved in strategic decision making understand the statutory requirements in respect of the duty and how their role plays a part in this. Public bodies may wish to offer training to those involved in strategic decision making and to consider whether a policy should be put in place, taking into account the Welsh Government guidance and the examples given on how to meet the duty on a day to day basis.
In ensuring that they comply with the new duty, public bodies may want to:
- Ensure that engagement involves people with protected characteristics and those that are socio economically disadvantaged
- Ensure scrutiny committees, boards and audit and risk committees have received training on the requirements of the duty
- Assess future trends to help identify long term issues, opportunities and challenges shaping socio-economic disadvantage
- Ensure impact assessments are regularly reviewed
- Adopt a whole organisational engagement plan that provides a long-term assessment of how the authority will engage and involve a wide variety of people.