Bath experts available to comment on government’s levelling up plan

Dr Michael Donnelly (Education) and Dr Ricky Kanabar (Social & Policy Sciences) comment on the government’s levelling up White Paper.

University of Bath experts in social policy and education can be available for media interviews in relation to the government’s plan for -Levelling Up-.

Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove today unveiled the strategy , which is described as the -biggest shift of power for Whitehall to local leaders in modern times-.

Dr Michael Donnelly is Associate Professor in the Department of Education at Bath. His work looks at geographies of education, including both social and spatial mobility (ie. how social mobility is not simply about wealth, but also inequities in opportunity for people growing up in different parts of the country).

Last year Michael was a key contributor to the Academy of Social Sciences- report -A place to be- , which examined the levelling up agenda and the contributions the social sciences can make to improve local economic growth, private sector businesses, local public services and quality of life in cities, regions and countries across the UK.

He said: --Much of the -levelling up- agenda focusses on spatial differences economically. It is crucial that these material differences between places are addressed, but our research shows that much of this is to do with the different -status- afforded to places historically - and the young people involved in our research show that this is continually reproduced, for example, by spoken accents. This deep-seated social distance between places requires more fundamental societal shifts in the value we attach to places.-

Dr Ricky Kanabar is an economist and social policy expert. His research focuses on the labour market, health inequalities and living standards in the UK, wealth, and social mobility. Some of his recent work has focused on wealth inequalities in Britain, specifically how housing wealth is increasingly shaped by parental wealth.

He said: -Today the government has released its long-awaited White Paper on Levelling Up. There is broad consensus across the political spectrum that tackling regional inequalities is a major policy issue. For example, evidence shows that at age 50 the most wealthy men will live, on average, an additional 31 years in good health compared to only 22/23 years among the least wealthy.

-Policymakers today announced their intention for average healthy life expectancy to have risen a further 5 years by 2035, an ambitious target given that average healthy life expectancy flatlined among men between 2009-2011 (62.7 years) and 2017-2019 (62.9 years) and actually fell for women over the same period by 0.5 years. But the key point is that the 5-year average increase is not driven solely the most affluent. The fact that where and who you are born to has a major impact on later life outcomes and drives much of the inequality we see today goes the very heart of the social fabric of society. It is also important to acknowledge that many of social outcomes and inequalities are transmitted across generations, so tackling inequality now is even more important if policymakers wish to break this link.

-The announcements made today in the new Levelling Up White Paper are broad and ambitious. Set across 12 mission areas government seeks to address major policy issues which they feel will help tackle regional and national inequalities. This includes reforms to areas such as local transports systems, early and later life education and skills, tackling productivity gaps, improving allocation of spending to target the most deprived areas, health initiatives and a shift of powers to regional and local levels. On paper these are welcome, however whether they actually lead to a reduction in inequality crucially depends on the specific details in the initiatives themselves and ensuring there is sufficient resources to achieve these ambitious goals. Without these, rhetoric will not become reality.-

-Policymakers are right to acknowledge the extent of inequality both across and within regions. But they are not the first government to do so. Inequalities have become entrenched in the UK over many decades and cannot be resolved overnight. Thus, one policy in isolation alone is not enough and a holistic cross-departmental approach is required. For policy to be effective alongside resources, policymakers must ensure there is sufficient scrutiny of policy initiatives. Evaluation should be built-in from the outset of programmes to ensure spending is being allocated efficiently and reforms to specific initiatives can be made. This government, similar to previous ones, has the chance to improve life outcomes for all in society, the question is whether they choose to do so.-

Read an extended blog from Ricky for the University's IPR on this.