May scraps Harman's 'socialist' law

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

By Ian Dunt

Theresa May will scrap a legal duty to help reduce inequality, as she tries to undo many of the last-minute changes made by Harriet Harman before she left office.

The measure in Ms Harman's Equality Act, which imposed a 'socio-economic' duty on public bodies, was never enacted even though most of the rest of the legislation went through. The government is now going to work out how to scrap the measure.

Critics dubbed it "socialism in one clause", but supporters said it would have forced government bodies to fight inequality just as the gap between rich and poor was widening.

"Just look at the socio-economic duty which Harriet Harman slipped into the Equality Act at the last minute," Ms May said in a speech today.

"It would have meant more time filling in forms and less time focusing on policies that will make a real difference to people's life chances.

"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," she added.

"They thought they could make people's lives better by simply passing a law saying that they should be made better. That was as ridiculous as it was simplistic and that is why we are scrapping Harman's Law for good."

The move will outrage campaigners, who insist the measure would have forced education authorities to encourage poorer parents to apply for successful schools in their area and health bodies to dedicate some of their budget to areas with the worst health records.

The measure was the first time any government had made it an objective for public bodies to reduce inequality.

"At its worst, it could have meant public spending permanently skewed towards certain parts of the country," Ms May said.

"Valued public services meant to benefit everyone in the community would have been closed down in some areas and reopened in others."

Labour reacted angrily to the move, brandishing it as further prooof that the Tories were more concerned with the rich than the disadvantaged.

Yvette Cooper, shadow women and euality minister, commented: "This is a shocking decision which gives the lie to the government's claim that 'we're all in this together'.

"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."

The move may also have been inspired by the legal problems the government has found itself in over its economic plans.

Labour's equality laws mean the impact on women must be taken into account before cuts of the sort the coalition is pursuing can be signed off.

The Fawcett Society is challenging the government on whether it has conducted the impact assessment tests on the consequences of the comprehensive spending review.

A strategy document laying out the government's approach to inequality will be published in a few weeks.


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