Just Fair runs a campaign on socioeconomic equality for everyone in the UK

Publish Date: 
Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Just Fair, together with The Equality Trust and others, launched earlier this year the campaign #1forEquality, to urge the UK government to bring to life the socioeconomic equality duty contained in Section 1 of the Equality Act.

The UK is a very unequal society. While the share of income in the top 20% has remained approximately stable since the early 1990s, the share of the top 1% has continuously increased well into the 2000s. There are significant gaps between ethnic groups. Inequality is most evident in the distribution of wealth. The richest 1,000 people accumulate more wealth than the poorest 40% of households.

In light of international human rights law, socioeconomic status is one of the prohibited grounds of discrimination. Rising socioeconomic inequality is often linked to worsening human rights conditions. Abundant empirical research confirms that inequality restricts access to the goods and services needed to realize the right to health, education or housing. Economic and social rights fulfilment is positively correlated with democracy, political competition, government accountability, rule of law and good governance; the negative impact of income inequality on the fulfillment of economic and social rights is statistically significant across countries and the general sense of trust and on the citizens’ ability to participate actively in society.

States must make full use of their “maximum available resources” to ensure the progressive fulfilment of economic and social rights. This ought to be done without discrimination, and ensuring minimum essential levels for everyone. Redistributive welfare and tax policies are a few of the tools available to governments in this regard. A government may be in breach of international human rights obligations when minimum standards of economic and social rights are not being met and there is a significant regression in the enjoyment of these rights. Mounting inequality suggests that public authorities are not doing everything in their power to guarantee an adequate standard of living for all.

Like all other countries, the UK is expected to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals adopted in 2015, including the 10th one, whereby governments have pledged to ensure equal opportunity and to reduce inequalities of outcome between and within countries. Equality is not only a goal in itself but the path through which all other development targets are to be met.

Because of its comparatively low investment in education and a regressive tax structure, the UK does not rank highly in Oxfam’s new index on countries’ commitment to reduce inequality.

The UK must change its course soon. Luckily it doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel. The first Section of the Equality Act 2010 imposes a duty on public bodies, when making strategic decisions, to consider how they can “reduce the inequalities of outcome which result from socioeconomic disadvantage”.

To take effect, however, this provision requires a formal decision by the Government to activate it, or as is known technically, to commence it. Despite being at the forefront of this Act, successive governments have failed to bring the socioeconomic equality duty into force.

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