On 1 October 2010, one hundred and sixteen separate pieces of legislation were pulled together into one single Act, the Equality Act and passed into law. The Act provides a legal framework to protect the rights of individuals and advance equality of opportunity for all. However, that said the Act has not been fully implemented in its entirety.
Section 1 of the Equality Act 2010 asks public authorities to actively consider the way in which their policies and their most strategic decisions can increase or decrease inequalities. We are talking about the socio-economic duty. However, successive governments since 2010 have failed to commence it, to bring it to life in technical terms, which means that public authorities are not technically bound by Section 1 of the Act.
So when on the 9th March 2012 the Government of the day, the Tory – Lib Dem Govt introduced Universal Credit, via the Welfare Reform Act 2012 (WRA), there was no necessity to consider the socio-economic duty of the Equality Act with regards to the WRA.
Over time, Universal Credit has come to have a huge impact upon peoples lives. And given that since the beginning of the pandemic every district in Kent has seen a significant rise in those claiming universal credit it has caused more people into debt and into using food banks across the the county and across our district.
In May 2019 a leading United Nations poverty expert compared Conservative welfare policies to the creation of 19th-century workhouses and warned that unless austerity is ended, the UK’s poorest people face lives that are “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”.
Philip Alston, the UN rapporteur and New York-based lawyer said then
The “endlessly repeated” mantra about rising employment overlooks that “close to 40% of children are predicted to be living in poverty two years from now, 16% of people over 65 live in relative poverty and millions of those who are in work are dependent upon various forms of charity to cope”, he said.
In his most barbed swipe at the minster in charge and their predecessors in charge of welfare, he said:
“It might seem to some observers that the department of work and pensions has been tasked with designing a digital and sanitised version of the 19th-century workhouse, made infamous by Charles Dickens.”
There is no doubt more people who will be swept into poverty, what with the strong possibility of a sharp increase in the cost of living which is brewing nicely. Once it arrives this time next year, more people will become reliant on foodbank to feed their households at an unprecedented level. It will arrive, as sure as night follows day.
In the 1968 Musical film Oliver, the boys sing in the well known and popular song “Food Glorious Food” about food. But further increases in poverty and use of foodbanks will not be a hollywood blockbuster, this time round.
And just three days ago the Trussell Trust, the UK’s largest food bank operator released their annual figures for the number of adults and children who received food parcels across six districts within the county, Dover, Folkestone & Hythe, Gravesham, Medway, Sevenoaks and Swale, for 2019/20 and 2020/21.
These figures clearly show more adults and children are relying upon charity for food than ever before. The combined total for 2020/21, is more than twice the population of Hythe Kent.
In Dec 2020, the Trussell Trust made it known it is now more common for people using food banks to be in debt to the government than to family and friends or payday loan companies.
The failure of successive governments to enact section 1 of the Equality Act, means there was no duty or legal obligation on Kent County Council education authority to ensure children on free school meals were fed properly while schools were shut and had access to laptops for remote learning. They did do both but only after the intervention of Marcus Rashford MBE, and many town and parish councils in the county.
There has been no appetite by Westminster to ‘level up’ society, if it were the case our government would have invested in jobs, education and training, and narrowed the gap between the working class and the rest of society.
After a pandemic where inequality issues have grown due to the rising number of unemployed and those claiming universal credit – which can be claimed in or out of work – it is time our parish, town, district and county Cllrs let the government know, that implementing the section 1 public sector duty would be an emphatic first step in the right direction to leveling up.
The Shepway Vox Team
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