What does ‘levelling up’ actually mean? Experts tackle the key Tory strategy that most people don’t understand



The phrase “levelling up” has been used by politicians in recent years, especially when it comes to discussing the north of England. The program was set out by the Conservative party in their 2019 manifesto.

Yet most of the population are unsure of what “levelling up” even means. A recent poll by YouGov revealed that 74 per cent of people don’t actually understand what it is.

Meanwhile one in four people have never heard of the term, despite the fact there’s a government department for it. To dispel the confusion a new episode of The North in Numbers podcast aims to shed light on the strategy.

READ MORE: ‘Empty promises and feeling let down’: Attitudes in Leigh are split three years after they turned Tory for the first time

The North in Numbers podcast tells the human stories behind various statistics for the north of England. In this episode – the first of series three – host Annie Gouk gets to the bottom of leveling up, speaking to policy experts and people working in some of the key areas the strategy targets.

Andy Westwood, Professor of Government Practice at the University of Manchester, said:“At its core, leveling up is really about recognizing how unequal the UK is. That inequality exists between regions, but it also exists within regions too at the local level.”

The north is a particular focus of the agenda, having been hit hard by long-term economic change such as deindustrialisation and the move away from manufacturing. The region falls behind in everything from health and education to housing and transport, and that north-south divide has only widened thanks to recent events.

Professor Westwood said: “Austerity, Brexit and Covid have all come together to create a cumulative effect over the last 10 years. Whatever one thinks about each of those individual things, together they’ve made those inequalities grow.”

One of the key areas of inequality the government is trying to tackle is education. School children in the north start to fall behind from a very early age, faring worse than average at early years foundation stage, and continuing to under-perform at GCSE level.

Another crucial element of the leveling up agenda is transport. Figures from IPPR show that over the last 10 years, the north has received £515 less per person than London in transport spending, and this is reflected in worse public transport options and greater car use.

While there are several concerns raised in the episode about the proposed delivery of leveling up, the general consensus is that it is a much-needed strategy – and that current plans at least make a good start. Jonny Webb, senior research fellow at IPPR North, said: “The good thing about the leveling up agenda is regardless of whether we do see these outcomes achieved over the next decade, what it has done is put into the center of our political discussions the importance of thinking about inequalities between places.

“I think we’ll now see politicians take it seriously and try to make efforts to close some of these divides. So even if it doesn’t happen in the form of this White Paper, I’m optimistic that we will see some progress on this.”

The North in Numbers returns to all major podcasting platforms for its third series this month, including Apple and Spotify. The podcast is a Laudable production for Reach, and it is presented by Annie Gouk and produced by Mark Magill. Get in touch via [email protected]

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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