The UK Government committed to reducing inequalities through Sustainable Development Goal 10. Three years later things aren’t on track but is the socio-economic duty the solution we need? Koldo Casla from Just Fair explains. 

By signing up to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015, among other things, the UK Government committed to reducing inequalities.

The SDGs, with their 17 Goals and 169 Targets, set the world on a trajectory where we have eradicated poverty, reduced inequalities, halted the loss of biodiversity and combatted catastrophic climate change. Some call them an action plan for the world. But as our chapter on SDG 10 in Measuring up shows, three years later the UK’s chances of hitting the targets on reducing inequalities by 2030 are not looking too good.

Three reasons why the UK will struggle to reduce inequalities

  1. Between one in five and one in four people earn less than 60% of the median income in the UK. This has barely changed since 2010, and things are not likely to improve as income inequality is projected to rise in the coming years.
  1. Although wealth inequality (the ownership of assets, including property) contracted between 1997 and 2007, it is now going up as a result of the decreased access to home ownership and because land values are growing faster than the economy. The richest 1,000 people are wealthier than the poorest 40% of households. 
  1. Tax and social security cuts introduced since 2012 have had a particularly severe effect on people on low incomes. Black and ethnic minority households, families with at least one disabled member, and lone parents (who are overwhelmingly women) have suffered disproportionately. According to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, as a result of the tax and welfare reforms households in the bottom 20-30 per cent have lost more than twice as much as those in the top 20 per cent. At this pace, in four years from now 1.5 million more children will live in poverty. 

The UK has a strong legal framework to prevent discrimination, we just need to use it

The socio-economic duty (Section 1 of the Equality Act 2010) requires public bodies to adopt transparent and effective measures to address the inequalities that result from differences in occupation, education, place of residence or social class. However, successive governments have failed to implement it fully.

Now we only need to persuade the government to trigger it.

If it was in place, for example, the London Borough of Kensington & Chelsea would have had to consider whether its policies on council tax and revenue, social housing, homelessness, community cohesion and disaster planning were enough to address the enormous inequalities on its doorstep. Arguably, this would have prevented or at least reduced the devastation and loss of life from the fire at Grenfell tower.

As part of the #1forEquality campaign, 70 academics and organisations and 78 MPs from five different parties are urging the Government to bring the socio-economic duty to life.

A significant change of course is needed to meet SDG10 and reduce inequalities in the UK. The socio-economic duty could help turn the UK into a truly fair society that does not leave anyone behind.

Koldo Casla is Policy Director at Just Fair, the chapter leads for SDG10 in Measuring up: How the UK is performing on the SDGs.

If you want to help achieve the SDGs in the UK join UKSSD today