Levelling up (continued...)
Image taken from here
Like many of you, we’ve spent the past fortnight continuing to digest the Government’s Levelling Up white paper, to better understand what levelling up might mean for community resilience.
As Jill Rutter writes, in a piece for British Future, the white paper has helped to move levelling up beyond purely economic and infrastructural definitions. “What is different about Levelling Up, compared with past regeneration programmes, is that it places community relations and social fabric on an equal footing to economic issues.”
How willingly the Government back this up with funding is another question. But, as we wrote in our Building Back Resilient report in November, it is vital that repairing the civic as well as economic infrastructure is part of the drive to address regional inequality. It is good to see that efforts to ‘restore a sense of community, local pride and belonging, especially in those places where they have been lost’ are now listed among the key tenets of the government’s strategy.
This analysis (£) by the Financial Times’ Martin Wolf, meanwhile, looks at several different aspects of the levelling up strategy. What really stood out for us was the chart below – which shows the uneven distribution of skills across the UK’s regions.
This links to our own analysis about the root causes of low community resilience. As the scatter chart below shows (taken from our research into all 862 English and Welsh towns), the correlation between the skill level of the local population and attitudes to immigration and multiculturalism is clear.
In general, places with high educational deprivation or with low levels of university access tend to be much more vulnerable to the attentions of the populist right. Not only are levels of education and attitudes to immigration correlated, but disparities in opportunity can feed resentments and hostility.
If people feel that the pathways to success do not exist for themselves or their children, then the door is opened to those promoting the idea that the system is rigged or that new communities are going to the ‘front of the queue’. And far right actors can more easily tap into cynical or even conspiracies narratives about the antics of ‘elites’ living in educated urban hubs.
So far, the Government’s white paper is a mission statement rather than anything more. As Wolf points out, “An examination of the listed policies indicates that the resources are too limited to deliver such goals.” If the DLUHC is to turn the policy into more than just a slogan then this will need to change.
However, if the regional skills disparities in the chart above are ‘levelled up’, it could dramatically improve resilience – reducing towns’ vulnerability to hateful narratives. For this reason we should hold the government’s feet to the fire on this ambitious aim, so that it doesn’t slip away when the political wind changes.