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.

So let’s go back to the beginning. What does levelling up mean, according to Michael Gove, the minister who coined the phrase?

It was one of the Conservative’s major campaign pledges in the run-up to their election victory in 2019. Simply put, ‘levelling up’ means reducing regional inequalities. The UK’s wealth is unevenly distributed, with London and the South suffering a lot less deprivation than the rest of the country. The Levelling Up White Paper, released in 2022, sets out a programme of investment aimed at creating jobs, improving education and preparing for a future low-carbon 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 fulflling lives, and benefitting from sustained rises in living standards and well-being.”

Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities

Cities and regions across England are in the process of preparing/submitting bids for the Levelling Up Fund, which awards money to projects like 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, investing in regeneration can be completely transformative to the health, wealth and wellbeing of residents. You won’t be surprised to hear us say this, but to truly deliver a programme that has the needs for its citizens at its heart, statistics aren’t enough: excellent community engagement is essential. Building new tower blocks or shopping centres can look attractive to stakeholders and developers, but if they don’t address what communities want and need, it’s money wasted.

While we wait to see what outcomes the government’s programme has, let’s take a look at some places in the UK that have worked with their communities to reduce inequality and improve living standards for everyone.

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. 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, they’re 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 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.

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