The Equalities Bill, will, for the first time, outlaw discrimination on the grounds of socio-economic background.
For the first time, the duty puts discrimination on the basis of socio-economic background on the same footing as discrimination due to gender, race, age and sexuality. This is an important symbolic move: few would argue that people from poorer backgrounds should have access to fewer or poorer services because of where they live.
The more important question, though, is the extent to which it will work. A decade of progressive education and health policies have failed to make a truly significant dent into the extent to which socio-economic background impacts on people’s life outcomes. There is nothing to suggest that a legislative approach will succeed where these policies have not.
More significant than an intangible ‘duty’ – that relies on the courts for enforcement – would be changing the current accountability frameworks for schools, PCTs and hospitals, to focus more explicitly on closing the gap, policies that divert funding towards disadvantaged groups. For example, the pupil premium proposals for schools from the Lib Dems and the Conservatives.
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