“Levelling Up” must be about more than motorways, bridges, and buildings

30 June 2021

The government’s post-Covid “levelling up” agenda will fail unless it addresses declining life expectancy and deteriorating social conditions in England’s poorest areas, Sir Michael Marmot, a leading authority on public health has warned, as he published figures showing the impact of the pandemic on Greater Manchester.

Sir Michael Marmot revealed the coronavirus death rate in Greater Manchester was 25% higher than the England average during the year to March, leading to “jaw-dropping” falls in life expectancy and widening social and health inequalities across the region over the past year.

He reported that deteriorating health equalities across similarly deprived areas of the country was a result of longstanding, avoidable socioeconomic inequities, and ethnic disadvantage, exacerbated by a decade of spending cuts and amplified by Covid and the effect of prolonged lockdowns.

A decade of government spending cuts had left the poorest parts of England in a weakened state when Covid hit in 2020, and Sir Michael has called for a “moral and practical” plan for government investment in jobs, housing, local services and education to tackle longstanding health and social inequalities

“Levelling Up” must be about more than motorways, bridges, and buildings – though affordable housing should be a priority. It must be about people and communities.


TAP believes that we need to build back fairer after the pandemic, and that this requires significant investment in social infrastructure, and neighbourhoods and communities not solely in economic infrastructure. It also requires radical redistribution of power, wealth, and resources; and tackling inequality in all its forms.

The introduction of a minimum income standard should form part of any serious attempt to address poverty and to “level up”. The adoption of the Real Living Wage by employers in the public, private and social sectors would be a great start and would make a difference.

TAP and CIP are calling for the government to legislate to introduce a national minimum income standard. We are also calling for major investment in housing and public services.

Although much of the “levelling up” discourse is about addressing regional inequalities especially in the north it is vital to address inequalities, impoverishment and disadvantage in every region and nation of the country.

Any serious plans to “level up” must also be underpinned by policies and action to address the structural and systematic social and economic causes of inequality, poverty, and the denial of human potential and human rights.

Bold radical action is required not more photo-opportunities and headline grabbing by politicians in hi-Vis jackets and hard hats. Politicians and the government in particular must act and act now for as Sir Michael Marmot has demonstrated there is a fundamental crisis that must be addressed, and address now with urgency.

The time is ripe for a new social settlement – Beveridge for the 2020s and beyond – and for social activism to secure progressive change.