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What is meant by levelling up?

In his first speech as Prime Minister, Boris Johnson spoke of a need to “level up across Britain” and “answer the plea of the forgotten people and the left-behind towns”, unleashing the “the productive power” of every corner of the country.”[1]

The theme of levelling up was also addressed in the Conservative Party’s 2019 election manifesto – this pledged to “to use our post-Brexit freedoms to build prosperity and strengthen and level up every part of the country”, through specific measures such as:

  • Investing in towns, cities, and rural and coastal areas
  • Giving those areas more control of how investment is made
  • Levelling up skills using apprenticeships and a £3bn National Skills Fund
  • Creating up to 10 freeports to help deprived communities.

Similarly, the 2021 Queen’s Speech stated the Government will “level up opportunities across all parts of the United Kingdom, supporting jobs, businesses and economic growth and addressing the impact of the pandemic on public services.”[2]

Levelling up is designed to address the longstanding problem of the UK’s regional economic disparities – the 2020 Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) Green Budget included a chapter on levelling up, which identified the following characteristics of areas most in need of levelling up:

A ‘left-behind’ area, in need of ‘levelling up’, is characterised by broad economic underperformance, which manifests itself in low pay and employment, leading to lower living standards in that area. Behind these factors lie other considerations such as poor productivity, which in turn may be associated with a low skill base. The health of the population may also be relatively poor: in some cases, this could be a legacy of deindustrialisation or long-term unemployment, as well as deep-rooted socio-economic issues.[3]

The Government is due to publish a White Paper on levelling up later this year; a response to a PQ on the subject stated this would “set out bold new policy interventions to improve livelihoods and opportunity in every part of the United Kingdom.”[4]

[1] Prime Minister’s Office, Boris Johnson’s first speech as Prime Minister, 24 July 2019

[2] Prime Minister’s Office, Queen’s Speech 2021, 11 May 2021

[3] IFS, Levelling up: where and how?, IFS Green Budget 2020, chapter 7, October 2020, pg. 325

[4] Levelling-up Agenda, HC Deb 27 May 2021, c 523


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