How long are people prepared to wait for levelling up?
While considerable time has been spent speculating on what the Government means by levelling up and ruminating on how it has gone about delivering it, including our discussion of levelling up investment, there has been little in the way of analysis of what people living in places targeted for government levelling up funding actually think or want.
This series of short blogs seeks to answer that question. It follows recent polling in the local authority areas given highest priority in the Levelling Up Fund, which was carried out by YouGov on behalf of the Law Family Commission on Civil Society. They explore the extent to which people want levelling up and when they want it to happen, as well as what people actually want from it, and who they want to be in charge.
Knowledge of it may be patchy, but the idea of levelling up has struck a chord in places that the Government has prioritised for funding
While questions still remain as to how much levelling up has cut through, there is evidence that the public are becoming increasingly aware of it. Recent polling by Ipsos MORI shows that those knowing at least a little about levelling up rose by 8 points from 48% to 56% between March and July this year.
Regardless of how much the public feel they know, it is abundantly clear that people in areas prioritised for funding under the Treasury’s flagship Levelling Up Fund have bought into the idea. The vast majority (70%) agree that where they live needs to be levelled up.
Figure 1. The majority of people in places prioritised for funding agree that where they live needs levelling up
Does where you live need levelling up?
This is unsurprising given the magnitude of the UK’s geographical inequalities and the extent to which people are aware of them. Those living in areas prioritised for levelling up funding overwhelmingly believe that where they live is worse off economically and socially, as well as having poorer public services, infrastructure and public amenities.
Figure 2. People living in places prioritised for levelling up funding perceive where they live to be worse than the rest of the UK, with jobs and pay, town centres and housing of particular concern
Compared to other places in the UK, how do you think the place where you live compares on each of the following?
And people seem to be confident that the Government will deliver
While commentary around levelling up has often been met with a mix of cynicism about ‘pork-barrel politics’ or confusion as to what it actually means, the public seems to have faith in the Government, for now.
Significantly, despite trust in government and politicians being generally low in the UK, almost two-thirds (63%) of those who think their area needs levelling up believe that this Government will deliver. Raised expectations represent something of a double-edged sword for the Conservatives, piling on the pressure for levelling up to be a success.
Figure 3. Almost two-thirds of those who think their area needs levelling up expect it to happen
Do you expect where you live will be levelled up?
However, they are likely to become significantly disillusioned if tangible improvements aren’t delivered within this parliament
Our polling suggests that while the majority would be happy if levelling up became a reality within the next three years, if the Government hasn’t delivered any tangible change beyond that timeframe, most voters are likely to lose faith.
Over three quarters (77%) of those who said their area needed levelling up say they would be happy if levelling up was delivered within three years. However, once the timeframe extends to within five years, this number tumbles to only 37%, with 60% saying they would be disappointed.
Figure 4. Those who think where they live needs to be levelled up are likely to lose faith in the Government if change isn’t tangible within the life of this parliament
How happy or disappointed would you be if your local area was “levelled up” within the following time periods? (Asked to those who agreed that where they live needs levelling up)
From a party-political perspective it seems that Conservative voters are likely to be the most demanding: nearly two-thirds told us they will be disappointed if levelling up takes five years, a huge jump from the one-fifth who would be disappointed if it happens within three years.
Figure 5. The risk of disillusionment is highest among Conservative voters, with almost two thirds saying they would be disappointed if levelling up is delivered within 5 years
How disappointed would you be if your local area was “levelled up” within the following time periods? (Asked to those who agreed that where they live needs levelling up)
With an election due by May 2024 and people expecting tangible results within the next three years it seems that the stars are aligning for levelling up to be one of the key political battlegrounds next time the country goes to the polls. Crucially, its success or failure will no doubt have a significant role to play in determining the likelihood that those Red Wall voters who ‘lent’ their vote to the Conservatives in 2019 will be asking for it back.