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The Government’s wide-ranging “levelling up” policy, intends to reduce geographic economic, social and health inequalities. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has described levelling up the UK as “the defining mission” of his Government.

Levelling up white paper

The Government published its Levelling Up the United Kingdom white paper on 2 February 2022. It’s an extensive document, providing history and analysis of the causes of economic and social disparities across the UK.

Plans to address and narrow these differences are introduced, covering numerous areas of government structures and public policy. Some elements are new, while others are existing policies. The paper also sets out areas on which further policies will be announced.

The white paper argues that a “fundamental rewiring” of the system of decision-making, locally and nationally, is required to address geographical disparities. To do that, the Government is introducing a new approach based on five “pillars”. This includes medium-term “missions” (outlined below), reforming central and local government decision making, and improving local data.

The intention is for this “long-lived programme of change” to “embed levelling up across all areas of the UK government, local and national”, in partnership with the private sector and civil society.

The Government’s 12 missions

The Government used the white paper to set 12 targets, or “missions” linked to policy objectives. The targets all have a 2030 end date, “setting the medium-term ambition” of the Government.

The 12 missions are under four objectives, outlined below. There are also key targets and policies, designed to help meet these objectives. Some of these were announced in the white paper, while many are existing policies. The Government says that policies set out in the white paper “will begin to have visible effects” in the “next few years”.

Objective one: Boost productivity, pay, jobs and living standards by growing the private sector, especially in those places where they are lagging

Living standards – foster a growing private sector to raise productivity, pay and living standards across the UK.

R&D – boosting research and development spending, focusing on areas outside of south-eastern England.

Transport infrastructure – improving transport connectivity outside London.

Digital connectivity – improving connectivity, including by rolling out high-speed gigabit-capable broadband.

Objective two: Spread opportunities and improve public services, especially in those places where they are weakest

Education – Improve literacy and numeracy among primary school children. Create new ‘Education Investment Areas’.

Skills – focus on improving skills, including of those in the workforce. Local Skills Improvement Plans to be introduced among other policies.

Health – reduce health disparities across UK, with a new white paper to be published in 2022. A food strategy white paper will also be published.

Wellbeing – measured using survey data from the Office for National Statistics, the “overarching objective” for levelling up is for improved wellbeing and the gap across local areas to close.

Objective three: Restore a sense of community, local pride and belonging, especially in those places where they have been lost

Pride in place – includes policies to support regeneration, communities, green spaces and cultural activities. The aim is to create stronger and more cohesive communities.

Housing – the aim is to increase home ownership and improve housing quality. Policies include reforms of the planning system, the target of building 300,000 new homes per year in England, a new Levelling Up Home Building Fund and a new white paper on the private rented sector.

Crime – to create safer neighbourhoods. 

Objective four: Empower local leaders and communities, especially in those places lacking local agency

Local leadership – a “devolution revolution” across England is proposed. This includes the introduction of ‘County Deals’ and expanding the number of Mayoral Combined Authorities. A new devolution framework will be set out. Local growth funds, such as the Levelling Up Fund and Shared Prosperity Fund, will provide funding to improve local areas. 

Next steps

The Government will introduce legislation to put into statute some aspects of the levelling up agenda. The white paper gives limited information on what this will include, but is likely to involve legislation to expand and deepen devolution in England and a statutory obligation “to report annually on progress towards meeting the Levelling Up missions”.

A new Levelling Up Advisory Council will also be created, chaired by the Secretary of State of Levelling Up and made up of leaders from industry, academia and civil society.


Labour has been critical of the white paper, with Keir Starmer saying it consisted of “rehashed and recycled” policies. Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon made similar comments and the Welsh Government criticised the lack of funding to accompany the plans.

Many think tanks and commentators have welcomed the overall aims of the Government’s white paper, while citing concerns regarding their delivery. Greater local devolution is one area that is welcomed by various think tanks, along with the focus on social, as well as economic, dimensions of inequality.

The white paper has also been praised for including metrics of success. However, there are concerns that some proposals are too ambitious, with insufficient plans for how the 12 missions will be delivered. Many think tanks point to the lack of funding allocated to these missions.

Economic background

The white paper’s analysis of geographic economic disparities in the UK notes that they are “among the largest across advanced economies”. For example, productivity levels are much higher in London than in the rest of the country. The white paper also highlights the fact that differences within regions are often as big or bigger than those between regions. The full Library briefing provides additional analysis of regional and local economic inequalities.

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