New Duty on Social Class?

In a White Paper on Social Mobility published last week, the Prime Minister has hinted that a new law will be introduced which will tell the public sector to consider “social class” as a factor equal to race, gender and disability when deciding how money, services and even jobs should be allocated. Specifically the White Paper itself suggests the government is minded to introduce:-

“ An over arching requirement on public authorities to address the inequalities people face associated with where they live, their family background or the job they do.

Developing the theme further, the White Paper says:-

“The law would embed social class in the day to day work of public officials and civil servants making them consider the economic circumstances of individuals, groups and areas in the same way they currently consider sex and ethnicity. We have legislated to require public authorities to tackle the inequality that arises from race, gender or ethnicity, your sexual orientation or disability. Co-existing and interwoven with these specific inequalities lies the persistent inequality of social class.”

And last Saturday, the Secretary of State for Equalities Harriet Harman confirmed that the promotion of equality will embrace the social class dimension. Speaking to the Fabians ,Ms Harman said:-

“Social class considerations should be taken forward in the design and delivery of public policy .It should be a core function of key public services. The groundwork for how we might inform this approach is already being laid in the new National Equality Panel which I established last September with Professor John Hills as chair. The White Paper says we will consider legislation to lay a duty on the public sector to tackle inequality across the board, narrowing gaps in outcomes for people from different backgrounds. We will be consulting shortly on how we can achieve this. In these tough and painful economic times, we are giving people real help now and real hope for the future”

Informed commentators at Westminster are speculating that the Single Equality Bill going forward in this parliamentary session will be amended to include the social class dimension. This will have the effect of putting equality issues at the centre of the prevailing economic climate and near the top of the political agenda in the General Election. Watch this space!

It is also likely that public bodies will be invited in their responses to the consultation exercise to provide data and evidence arising from their existing equality schemes and impact assessment processes.