The government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda will be the focus of this Parliament. Our analysis (including in our previous paper What will ‘levelling up’ pay for?) suggests that tackling social issues, or social needs, such as homelessness, poverty, and crime, has at best been a peripheral feature of the levelling up funding announced so far.

This report focusses on whether the government’s levelling up agenda should invest in addressing social needs alongside improving physical infrastructure, and if it should, how it can go about doing so. It also finds that there is an expectation from the public that, as part of the agenda, social needs will be tackled. Improving the UK’s infrastructure is an important priority, that is not up for dispute, however, the needs of many areas of the country extend far beyond transport and highstreets.

To meet people’s expectations, levelling up funds should have collaboration with the voluntary and community sectors hard wired into them and funding must better target needs in the most deprived areas of the UK.

This report finds that:

  • The public think the most important aspects to an area being levelled up are reduced homelessness (36% placing this in their top 3 factors), reduced poverty (36%), lower levels of crime (34%), and lower levels of unemployment (32%).
  • As little as 7% of the £8.77bn of levelling up funding could be spent on services that might tackle social needs, such as homelessness, poverty, crime and unemployment.
  • 23% of the most deprived quarter of local authorities in England are currently not prioritised for levelling up funding.

We recommend:

  • The funding criteria for existing and future levelling up funds should be loosened to support investment in programmes and services that can address social needs, as well as improve physical infrastructure.
  • Current and future funding should be targeted at areas of the country facing the greatest deprivation.
  • 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.
  • 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.

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