Theresa May shelves 'equality duty' on councils

Image caption,
Mrs May is both home secretary and equality minister

The government will drop Labour's proposed law requiring councils to tackle social deprivation, equalities minister Theresa May has said.

Mrs May described the clause as a "politically motivated target" which could have skewed public funding.

About 90% of the Equality Act came into force in October, the rest is being reviewed by the government.

Labour's Yvette Cooper said the move was a "licence to abandon the hardest pressed in society".

The "social-economic duty", part of predecessor Harriet Harman's Equalities Bill, had been opposed by the Tories in opposition.

The law gives public bodies in England and Wales, including councils and health authorities, a new social-economic duty.

For example, health trusts would be required to target services, such as stop-smoking clinics, at people in deprived areas - where smoking rates tend to be higher.

Education authorities would be expected to come up with policies which prevent children from poorer backgrounds from missing out on places at the best schools.

But critics had dubbed it "socialism in one clause".

'Ridiculous and simplistic'

In her first big speech on equality, Mrs May, who is also home secretary, said the clause she dubbed "Harman's law" could have led to public spending being skewed.

Bin collections and bus routes would have had to be designed "not on the basis of practical need but on this one politically-motivated target", she said.

Mrs May said: "You can't solve a problem as complex as inequality in one legal clause.

"The idea that they could was symptomatic of Labour's approach to Britain's problems. They thought they could make people's lives better by simply passing a law saying that they should be made better.

"This was as ridiculous as it was simplistic. And that's why I'm announcing today that we are scrapping Harman's law for good."

She added: "We shouldn't just compensate people for the barriers to opportunity that they face, we should take action to tear down those barriers altogether."

Mrs May also said there were plans to allow people with old convictions for consensual gay sex to apply for their record to be deleted from the police national computer.

And she said the right to request flexible working would be extended to everyone - not just parents and carers.

But she did not confirm whether the government would go ahead with Labour's plans to require employers to disclose whether they pay women as much as men. She said there would be an announcement on that in the future - but she said the pay gap for full-time women employees remained at over 12%.

Equality campaigners the Fawcett Society said failing to bring in the powers would be "tantamount to endorsing the shocking gender pay gap".

And shadow equality minister Yvette Cooper criticised the move to scrap the social-economic duty on councils as "shocking". She said: "Just as cuts are about to strike, the government is removing protection for those on the lowest income who are likely to be hit hardest.

"It makes a mockery of any pretence these cuts will be fair."

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