When you ask people how they would judge their area to have levelled up, they’ll tell you about the social issues in their area, like homelessness, crime, and poverty. Yet so far Levelling Up money has been focussed on physical infrastructure. We’re not seeing targeting towards places with higher rates of homelessness, despite it being among the issues the public most care about.
With a White Paper imminent, and the UK Shared Prosperity Fund yet to be fully allocated, the Government has a real opportunity to set this right.
Based on our previous polling, the public consider the most important aspects to an area being levelled up to be reduced homelessness (36% placing this in their top three factors), reduced poverty (36%), lower levels of crime (34%), and lower levels of unemployment (32%).
In this analysis, we investigate where Levelling Up money is going and how it compares with these priorities.
Areas with the worst homelessness rates do not receive any more Levelling Up funding on average across the UK than places with less homelessness. This is despite homelessness being a key metric by which the public would judge Levelling Up to be a success. In Scotland, local authorities with the highest homelessness rates are receiving less Levelling Up funding than the areas with the lowest.
Even the funding that is going to the right places is not going to tackle social issues. NPC analysis shows that only 2% of the total levelling up funding is going on social infrastructure so far, despite the public’s expectation that Levelling Up tackle social issues. The majority is going on hard infrastructure, high streets, and buildings.
Multiple wealthy areas with few social issues are receiving large amounts of Levelling Up funding. For some places, like the Isles of Scilly, this is due to unique circumstances. For others, like Lewes, the substantial Levelling Up money is harder to explain.
Meanwhile, some of the most deprived local authorities in Britain have had no Levelling Up funding at all so far. In Wales, seven of the ten most deprived local authorities have gained no money so far from the funds we analysed. In Scotland, six of the ten most deprived local authorities are not yet receiving any. In England, three of the ten most deprived local authorities are not yet receiving any. The places which are missing out are predominantly urban areas.
High crime areas do not receive any more Levelling Up funding on average across Wales than low crime areas, despite crime being a key metric by which the public would judge Levelling Up to be a success. In Wales, the areas with the highest crime rates receive less Levelling Up funding than the areas with the lowest crime rates.
Per person, Wales and Scotland are getting less Levelling Up funding than England so far. Scotland is only receiving 3.5% of all Levelling Up funding we analysed, despite having 8.2% of the population. Wales is getting just 2.5% of Levelling Up funding despite having 4.7% of the population.
Include funding for social infrastructure that can reduce social needs in future rounds of the Levelling Up Fund and UK Shared Prosperity Fund. The government should change the criteria for the Levelling Up Fund to include social infrastructure projects such as those that cut crime and homelessness. They should also require social outputs, such as skills programmes and community facilities, as part of any capital investment. The government should ensure the criteria for the long-awaited UK Shared Prosperity Fund, worth up to £1.5bn per year, includes programmes to reduce social needs in areas where they are highest.
Areas prioritised for funding should produce a local roadmap, setting out how they will use the funding, in concert with their other work, to ‘level up’ their areas, both socially and economically. This must involve consultation with local communities and should require partnerships with charities and community groups who are a ready resource already embedded within these communities ready to tackle social issues. The ‘everyone in’ movement to tackle homelessness during lockdown shows how government and charity sector coordination can have a significant and sudden impact on a social issue and should be replicated to address the scale of the Levelling Up challenge. The rumoured new local Mayors or Governors to be announced in the Levelling Up White Paper would be ideally placed to develop these local roadmaps.
These roadmaps should be informed by local data on social needs from both government and the social sector where it is available. As this analysis has shown, the needs of different communities are not the same across the country, so they need to have more of a voice in how this money is spent. This is not only the right thing to do, it will also make the policy more effective.
A national Levelling Up Intelligence Board, with representation from charities of all sizes, businesses, faith groups and community groups, should be established to provide intelligence to the government on the Levelling Up agenda. Charities and social enterprises have valuable insights and intelligence about the needs of their communities and which programmes work to cut social needs. The potential new Levelling Up quango that has been reported in the media would be the ideal body for this intelligence board.
A Levelling Up which tackles social needs, and engages with community groups, will not only be the most effective way to achieve the government’s goals for Levelling Up. It will also be the most effective way to give the public what they expect to see and win their support for the project.
Importantly, it will also deliver some of the social interventions which will allow the government to demonstrate the most visible immediate impact.
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