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New public duty proposed

16 January 2009
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Social mobility white paper proposes a new duty on the public sector to tackle socio-economic disadvantage

In a white paper launched on 13 January 2009, New opportunities: fair chances for the future, the government sets out its agenda for increasing social mobility.

Among an extensive package of measures, the paper proposes introducing a new duty on the public sector to tackle socio-economic disadvantage and to narrow gaps in outcomes for people from different backgrounds. This would sit alongside the current public sector duties on race, disability and gender.

Some commentators have suggested that this new duty might form part of the new Equality Bill (Polly Toynbee, writing in The Guardian 13 January 2009). However, the white paper itself is cautious about timescales, indicating that wide consultation would be needed on such a development before it is introduced. The government has previously communicated that a full public consultation on a single public duty, as part of the Equality Bill, will begin in spring 2009.

In a foreword to the white paper, the Prime Minister described the initiative in terms of enabling everyone to reach their full potential regardless of background:

'The measures in this white paper provide ... investment and support for people to make the most of their potential throughout their lives: not just at 11 or 16, but lifelong chances to succeed... We will give more support and encouragement to young people from families with no experience of higher education, ensuring they have the kind of mentoring and advice that their peers can expect. And to support opportunity throughout people's lives we will radically extend financial support for those who want to retrain, gain new qualifications and get better jobs.

Britain faces a pivotal moment in its history. The decisions we take today will define the opportunities of a generation. With the measures in this white paper, we will not just manage the downturn fairly, but make of it the beginning of a new era for our nation - with a historic commitment to the greatest possible achievement of modern progressive politics as we lay the foundations of true social mobility and social justice in modern Britain.'

- Gordon Brown

Download New opportunities: fair chances for the future from the government website

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