One in three deprived areas locked out of Boris Johnson’s ‘levelling-up’ funding, study finds

‘Too many areas have been overlooked,’ says Salvation Army

Adam Forrest
Wednesday 25 August 2021 13:38
Boris Johnson admits he has only ‘skeleton’ of a plan to level-up country

More than a third of England’s most deprived areas have been locked out of funding aimed at addressing inequality across the country, new research has revealed.

Boris Johnson’s government is facing a legal battle over whether it has been funnelling money from its £4.8bn “Levelling-Up Fund” into Conservative-held areas to give it a political advantage.

The High Court will decide whether the fund unlawfully sent cash to areas considered to be of “political benefit” to the Tory Party following a challenge brought by the Good Law Project.

A new study by the Salvation Army shows 45 deprived communities – mostly in England’s coastal and rural areas – have been denied access to the precious funding.

The charity urged ministers to rethink how they calculate urgent need or risk leaving some of the country’s most deprived communities to spiral further into poverty.  

“The £4.8bn earmarked for levelling up is a bold move by the government … but we are worried that this investment is missing many key areas in serious decline,” said Rebecca Keating, the Salvation Army’s director of employment services.

She added: “We want to encourage the government to listen to the communities who need their help. Look up from the spreadsheet and see what we are seeing on the ground.

“There are too many areas of severe deprivation that have been overlooked. We must ensure investment reaches these people; it’s the only way to truly level up the country.” 

Although the government has prioritised 93 areas for “levelling-up” funding, the Salvation Army said there were 116 areas which met the criteria for acute deprivation and merited urgent investment.

The charity said the government’s analysis did not look at labour market data into sufficient detail – meaning pockets of deprivation in otherwise affluent areas had not been prioritised.  

The charity wants the government to boost accessible childcare to help more people access work and training opportunities by extending 30 hours per week of free childcare to 52 weeks.

It comes as minister prepares for High Court battle over an unusual funding formula that critics have accused of amounting to “pork barrel politics”.

Campaigners cited an investigation by the National Audit Office which found that the government’s list of targets for the cash had been published without supporting information to explain why they had been chosen.

The Tory Party’s 2019 manifesto promised Mr Johnson’s government would set about “levelling up every part of the UK” in order to address regional wealth disparities.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) said in response to the suit at the time: “The £4.8bn Levelling Up Fund is open to all places in Great Britain and will play a vital role in helping to support and regenerate communities.

“The published methodology makes clear the metrics used to identify places judged to be most in need. It would not be appropriate to comment on potential legal action.”

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