by Caroline Waters
Published: 17 Dec 2019
Caroline Waters OBE is Deputy Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission and is our lead commissioner for England.
With regions up and down the country currently developing their local industrial strategies, local leaders have an opportunity to shape the economic futures of their own areas.
But, as our ‘Is England Fairer?’ report showed, there are stark inequalities across the country, with people with particular protected characteristics more likely to experience disadvantage, unemployment and poorer living standards in certain regions.
Economic prosperity can be a real boost to equality. Inward investment can be targeted to create local jobs, investment in skills can drive opportunities and development in housing and infrastructure can improve people’s lives.
In turn, equality can strengthen economic growth by creating the conditions where people can realise their potential.
Conversely, the impact of a weak economy may be felt more keenly by people with certain protected characteristics, as actions such as promoting equality and diversity and offering flexible working can be seen as nice to have rather than a necessity.
At the Equality and Human Rights Commission, we have a role to play in driving this, using our unique enforcement powers to tackle breaches in equality and human rights and working with public and private sector partners to champion best practice.
Through our recently launched England Network, we want to work with local civic and business leaders across the country to share best practice and tackle geographical inequality. So how can we create jobs and economic growth without leaving people behind and widening inequalities?
Equality can strengthen economic growth by creating the conditions where people can realise their potential.
One answer may come from the recently published ‘Good Growth for Cities’ report, which ranks the UK’s largest cities against indicators that everyday people think are most important when it comes to economic wellbeing.
Rather than just tracking GDP, this report considers wider factors such as availability of good jobs, skills development, household income, health, housing and transport. Mapped against these measures, London (traditionally seen as the country’s economic powerhouse) doesn’t even make it into the top ten, ranking behind cities such as Oxford, Bristol, Edinburgh and Leeds.
The report claims there are five success factors for good growth, with the first one being: Start and end with citizen outcomes. This is the approach championed by the Equality Act, the landmark legislation which we uphold.
The Equality Act places a duty on public sector organisations to consider the impact of policies and service provision on different equality groups. Carried out rigorously, equality impact assessments of local and regional long-term plans can help ensure that everyone benefits from a brighter future.
The socio-economic duty would also require public authorities to consider whether policies reduce or increase inequalities caused by socio-economic disadvantage. Whilst this section of the Equality Act has never been enacted by the UK government, a similar provision has been passed by the Scottish Government and from April next year it will be enacted in Wales.
Some English local and regional authorities also undertake to consider their activities through this lens, and I would encourage all local leaders to commit to do likewise.
Mayors, councils, businesses and charities with strong ties to their local communities are uniquely placed to solve the challenges we currently face as a country and address the divisions in our society. We want to work with them to ensure that the needs of all our citizens are considered in their plans.
I can see much to be done to tackle inequality but I strongly believe that if everyone gets a fair chance in life, we all thrive.