UK politicians absolutely love the phrase ‘levelling up’. It’s so commonly used that British politics now sounds a bit like a Super Mario game. “We’re levelling up our foreign policy! And our economy! And the housing market!” You’d be forgiven for being confused about what it actually means at this point.

Michael Gove first unveiled a new ‘levelling up’ policy in 2019, but what does levelling up mean in politics?

What is levelling up?

The Conservative Party named ‘levelling up’ as one of their major campaign pledges in the run-up to their election victory in 2019.

Simply put, ‘levelling up’ means reducing regional inequality. The UK’s wealth is unevenly distributed, with London and the South suffering a lot less deprivation than the rest of the country, and the North East and West Midlands struggling the most.

The Levelling Up White Paper, released in 2022, sets out a programme of investment and public policy aimed at creating jobs, improving education, economic growth, and preparing for a future low-carbon UK economy, among other things.

“While talent is spread equally across our country, opportunity is not. Levelling up is a mission to challenge, and change, that unfairness. Levelling up means giving everyone the opportunity to
flourish. It means people everywhere living longer and more fulfilling lives, and benefitting from sustained rises in living standards and well-being.”

Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities

How does levelling up work?

house under construction

After the loss of the European Structural and Investment Fund Programme (ESIF) after Brexit, the government introduced the UK Shared Prosperity Fund to fund levelling up projects.

Across the United Kingdom, there are levelling up and community investment funds, provided by the UK government. They are created with the intention to fund projects like social housing, improving town centres, investing in green architecture, building community resources, and many more. Some awards have been made but it’ll likely be years before we can fully assess the effects.

All that being said, while ‘levelling up’ is a political buzzword, the concept of investment to reduce deprivation isn’t new. Done right, regeneration funding can be completely transformative to the health, wealth and wellbeing of a local area.

But while building new tower blocks or shopping centres can look attractive to stakeholders and developers, if they don’t address what communities want and need, it’s money wasted.

Let’s take a look at some places in the UK that have worked with their local communities to reduce inequality and improve living standards for everyone.

Examples of levelling up

London Borough of Southwark

“In common with the rest of our city we are a place of contrast. While so many thrive, others struggle. Inequalities in health, income and access to opportunities remain, despite efforts to reduce them. Through two crises – COVID-19 and cost of living – we have seen the disproportionate impact on some of our residents, especially those from Black and ethnic minority communities, and those on lower incomes.”

The London Borough of Southwark is undertaking a wide-ranging project called Southwark 2030, that will make the borough a better place to live for everyone by 2030.

The local authority will be looking to improve access to affordable housing, address health inequality, tackle safety issues in the borough and create well-connected, caring neighbourhoods, among other goals to improve local pride.  They’ve already gone through multiple rounds of community engagement, with more to follow, and they’re keeping everyone updated via Citizen Space.

Sefton Council

Sefton Council's Consultation Hub, bringing all consultations into one place.

Sefton is within the top third of most deprived council areas across England. However, the local government is taking significant steps to improve this, and they’re bringing residents along for the decision-making process. Current large projects include a big project improving Southport’s waterfront; travel and local transport improvements; and a clean air action plan, on all of which they’ve invited residents to give feedback via Citizen Space.

They’re using Pages to keep everyone updated on current, past and future engagement opportunities, as well as their outcomes and the status of each project.

Citizen Space is a citizen engagement platform trusted by government around the world. Government organisations and public bodies use Citizen Space to connect with more citizens, increase engagement and improve processes.

To learn more about what Citizen Space can do for your organisation, book a free demo and we’ll walk you through it.