A socio-economic duty for police

We are facing the worst cost of living crisis for a generation, rising inflation and inevitable cuts to already under-funded services.

Oct 18, 2022
Pavan Dhaliwal, chief executive, Revolving Doors

This has led to many of us to fear the increasing criminalisation of poverty as people struggle to make ends meet. We know that those living in socio-economically deprived communities are more likely to be both perpetrators and victims of crime. They are also more likely to live in areas that are targets of ‘hotspot policing’. The cost of living crisis coupled with the ‘poverty premium’ risks more and more people being forced into crimes of desperation, and punished for them.

An urgent response to this is needed and certainly the police can have an important role in tackling these issues. So what can they do?

We know that the largest churn in the system is caused by the ‘revolving door’ group. Those who have repeat contact with the criminal justice system whose behaviours are largely driven by unmet health and social needs, which include combinations of substance misuse, homelessness, mental ill-health and domestic abuse, often referred to as ‘multiple disadvantage’.

These people need to be diverted out of the criminal justice system and into specialist services to tackle the root causes of their offending behaviour. We are seeing forces increasingly make use of good quality diversion schemes but coverage can be patchy and take up ad hoc.

One approach that can help forces consider and address this is to embed a socio-economic duty in their strategic decision-making and thereby challenge poverty through policing. This is already in place in Scotland and Wales and increasingly local authorities in England are taking this approach.

With police forces in mind we recently produced a toolkit to assist in embedding this approach and are calling on forces to take this up. Not a silver bullet solution, but certainly an incredibly powerful tool to help address and reduce socio-economic inequalities in our communities. It supports inclusive approaches to strategic decision-making, reducing the most pressing inequalities of outcome exacerbated by the pandemic, the cost of living crisis and ingrained socio-economic inequality.

One of the key pillars of undertaking a socio-economic duty is giving ‘due regard’ to socio-economic disadvantage when making strategic decisions, which requires active consideration, participation and proportionality. Active consideration means that public bodies must effectively consider whether there are opportunities within their strategic decision to reduce inequalities of outcome based on socio-economic disadvantage. Participation means involving in the process those who may be directly affected by the decision, through measures such as forums and engagement activities. Proportionality means giving a level of due regard that is proportionate to the scale of socio-economic disadvantage and expected inequalities of outcome with regard to the strategic decision being made.

The most effective way for police and crime commissioners (PCCs) and police forces to act in the spirit of the socio-economic duty is to incorporate the duty into their strategic decision-making, by giving due regard to socio-economic deprivation. PCCs should give such due regard in their planning, budgeting and resource allocation, to ensure none of these processes may disadvantage people who are experiencing socio-economic deprivation.

PCCs and police forces should work with local communities to understand the level of impact their strategies and decisions may have on socio-economically disadvantaged people. For example, stop and search tactics, use of out-of-court disposals and concentrated focus of police resources on a particular area will be more likely to impact on equality of outcome for socio-economically disadvantaged communities.

There is an opportunity here to not only improve relations between the police and communities through undertaking this process, but also help build a powerful foundation for a fairer society.

See https://revolving-doors.org.uk/publications/socioeconomic-duty-toolkit/

Pavan Dhaliwal 

Chief Executive, Revolving Doors 

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