There are some areas in which I agree with this government. The need to level up is one of them.
The UK is very unequal. It is a rich country filled with poor people with a large disparity between those who have and those who have not. On average things look fine but the detail leaves a lot to be desired. As the saying goes, a man can drown in a lake that averages 4 inches deep.
According to the New European, research by leading economic geographer Philip McCann for the UK2070 Commission found that the UK was 28th out of 30 on a long list of regional inequality measures – and the worst of all comparable developed large countries.
The UK2070 Commission is an independent body dedicated to researching the subject.
The important thing about leveling up is that it is not only to do with money. Clearly cash is involved yet this is often the manifestation of deeper social problems. Throwing a few million here or there won’t solve the problems in the long term.
Educational attainment, healthcare, life expectancy, social mobility, demographics, housing and arts are all part of the mix. Each of these is fractured across the country depending upon where you are. It is not just a question of a north/south divide, even within areas of deprivation the figures can be stark. For example, nationally 92% of schools in deprived areas are rated good or above while in Yorkshire and the Humber it is as low as 56%.
Solving these problems will take years. Creating jobs in those below the level areas will help but if the local populace does not have the skills to fill them then this will result in inward migration of skilled workers, exacerbating the problem even further. Moving jobs from high performing areas to lower performing ones may not help either if the underlying conditions that have caused the inequality remain.
Levelling up must not be confused with spreading what we have more equally. While this would certainly alleviate inequality in the short term it is the underlying social conditions that need to be addressed that create the conditions for communities to thrive.
Levelling up should be about learning from the best performers and applying the lessons over the long term, much longer than the lifetime of a parliament and therein lies the problem. Levelling up requires a long term commitment of perhaps 30 to 50 years. To make this happen will require political consensus, collaboration and commitment.
Levelling up cannot be the mantra of one party alone.