IGN learnings

Advancing equality through inclusive growth

Centre for Progressive Policy Francesca Cave square

Francesca Cave

IGN programme coordinator

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Understanding socioeconomic disadvantage, spatial deprivation, and their intersections with protected characteristics is pivotal to shaping local approaches to inclusive growth.

In 2020/21, around one in five people in the UK – 13.4 million – were living in poverty. But socioeconomic disadvantage is not experienced in isolation; it intersects with other axes of inequality relating to disability, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality, among others. These inequalities have a compounding effect. For instance, while women generally face a higher risk of living in poverty than men; ethnic minority women experience considerably higher rates of poverty than white women[1].

Unless we take an intersectional approach, there is a risk that our policies, strategies, and interventions may reproduce these inequalities or potentially even exacerbate them.

Chris Oswald, Principal - Strategy at the Equality and Human Rights Commission led a workshop with IGN members and partners on advancing equality through local approaches to inclusive growth. This included an overview of equality legislation in England, Scotland, and Wales, including the adoption of the Socio-Economic Duty.

We also heard from Daniel Stevens from The City of Edinburgh Council on Edinburgh and South East Scotland’s approach to embedding equality indicators into Benefits Realisation Plans, and Holly Harwood, Management Graduate at Liverpool City Region on the Combined Authority’s journey to adopting the Socio-Economic Duty.

Key learnings:

When advancing equality, it is crucial to engage directly with the lived experience of individuals and communities, understanding the barriers they face and identifying the additional support they require to take up opportunities. Failure to do so risks developing policies and making decisions based on assumptions that may not effectively address the core issues. Drawing on the expertise and established trust of the voluntary, community, and social enterprise (VCSE) sector can help give voice to people and communities that are often excluded from policy-making processes.

Local and combined authorities can advance equality as

(1) Employers

  • Review recruitment and employment policies, practices, and procedures: Local and combined authorities can actively enhance equality and inclusion by reassessing employment policies, for instance through a socioeconomic lens. Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service (MFRS) exemplifies the success of this approach. Individuals experiencing socioeconomic disadvantage and/or from areas with higher levels of deprivation were underrepresented in firefighter applications. Following a review, the driving license requirement for firefighter roles was identified as a barrier to prospective applicants. In response, the driving licence barrier was removed and supportive measures were introduced. MFRS now offers driving licence bursaries for successful applicants. This includes driving lessons in MFRS’s training school, with MFRS paying the cost of driving tests and licence fees. This measure led to an additional 195 applications in 2022, 48% coming from the 10% most deprived areas of Merseyside.

(2) Service providers and commissioners:

  • Optimise procurement for equality: Public procurement in the UK, with an annual expenditure of £379bn, presents a tangible lever to improve equality of opportunity for disadvantaged workers in labour markets. For example, Glasgow City Region’s sustainable procurement strategy actively monitors and prioritises opportunities for key demographic groups. The aim is to advance equality through improved access to employment opportunities for young people (16-24 years), women (especially those assuming primary care roles for children), disabled people, ethnic minority people, and people experiencing poverty.
  • Embed equality indicators into Benefits Realisation reporting: In Edinburgh and South East Scotland, the City Region Deal Benefits Realisation Plan sets out an overarching Theory of Change to map out the potential relationships between Deal programme inputs, activities, outputs, outcomes, and impacts. Developed by programme partners, the key impacts include: sustained employment; Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation ranking uplifts; increases in recruitment from under-represented groups; and sustainable transport improvements.
  • Address equality impacts in investments: Sectors such as manufacturing, construction, digital, wind power, sciences, and technology offer significant potential for productivity growth and innovation. Yet these sectors are highly segregated with low representation of women and individuals from ethnic minorities, and high pay disparities. Positive action is needed to enable these sectors to draw from a diverse talent pool. This could involve integrating flexible work arrangements into sectors like construction, investing in improved transportation to accommodate the needs of the 85% of working women in the UK who would change their commute to avoid the dark, and prioritising affordable and accessible childcare.

(3) Civic leaders:

  • Leveraging convening powers to develop collaborative strategies through partnership working: Liverpool City Region (LCR) Combined Authority is working collaboratively with local authority and public sector partners to maximise the positive impacts of adopting the Socio-Economic Duty. Recognising that there are high levels of socioeconomic deprivation across the region, their approach emphasises the importance of coordinated and collaborative working. The duty has been embedded in local partnership working forums such as the LCR Equality Officers and LCR recruitment groups. The next phase of work will focus on bringing together data and lived experience across organisations to compile a shared evidence base for measuring and understanding socioeconomic disadvantage, as well as a means for measuring progress in reducing inequalities at a project, locality, and regional basis.


Equality and Inclusive Growth

Presentation by Chris Oswald, Principal-Consultant at the Equality and Human Rights Commission

183 KB  |  presentation

Embedding the Socio-Economic Duty

Presentation by Holly Harwood, Social Value, Equality and Inclusion at Liverpool City Region

8 MB  |  presentation