Making Levelling Up work, where it matters most

Making Levelling Up work, where it matters most

That is Levelling Up in action. That is our party’s mission for the whole country. In my department that will mean investing in urban regeneration, with new homes on neglected brownfield sites, a better deal for those in social housing, and helping more of those who currently rent to own their own homes.” – Michael Gove MP, Secretary of State for Levelling Up

It was clear from the conference speech by the new Levelling Up Secretary, Michael Gove, that housing will form the focal point of this key Government agenda.

The speech came in the same week that a report written by Public First for Homes for the North argued for exactly that: in order to make Levelling Up real to key voters, housing must be at the core of its agenda.

Homes for the North – an alliance of 17 housing associations providing around 450,000 homes for almost one million people – has used the report as its formal submission to the 2021 Spending Review, making three key recommendations on how to make Levelling Up work.

If you are interested in knowing more about the report or working with Public First, please contact Tom Waterhouse at

Public First undertook six focus groups across the North, Midlands and South East as well as a 1,250 nationally representative poll. We found that:

  • There is overwhelming support for the arguments underpinning Levelling Up. 61% agreed with the view: “there has been underinvestment in areas outside London for years, and more money should be spent to correct this – even if it means investing in regions with lower prospects of economic growth”. Only 21% supported an alternative view, that “public money should be spent where there is the best return on investment, even if that means continuing investment in more affluent regions like the South East” (18% couldn’t choose between those two statements).
  • This is despite most people having not heard of Levelling Up. Only 43% of respondents said they had heard of Levelling Up, with 57% saying they had not (or didn’t know if they had). Among working-class respondents, only 34% knew what Levelling Up was, while 66% did not.
  • There is also real scepticism about whether we can afford it. 41% of respondents agreed with the statement, “given how much the UK has spent dealing with Covid, the Government should wait until the national debt is lower before going ahead with the Levelling Up agenda” (27% disagreed and 9% don’t know).
  • Uncertainty remains about Levelling Up: whether it will ever happen, if it will make a difference, or if it is actually desirable – with fears of unintended economic consequences or the social impact on local communities.
  • The public are clear that funding needs to be directed to those most in need, focusing on areas of high unemployment and poverty. In geographical terms, that means the North of England, which people think is the part of the country where the economic gap with the South East is greatest.
  • There is a desire for Levelling Up to produce tangible, visible results – such as reversing the decline of high streets and giving people from all walks of life a greater chance of living in the areas they had grown up, by providing more affordable housing.
  • Both of these things – high streets and homes – were seen as having an intrinsic role in shaping the nature of their towns, helping to foster local identity and a sense of community.
  • Every part of the country supports providing more homes outside the South East. 49% of the public agree with the statement, “we are building too many homes in the South and should build more in other parts of the UK”, with just 10% disagreeing (17% don’t know). Net support for this proposition in the South East (41%) is on a par with that of the North (40%).
  • Leading on from this, people had a clear preference for homes to be replaced and renovated rather than new ones constructed; for them, restoring disused homes was a way of preserving the heritage and cultural identity of towns, as well as preventing waste.
  • Overall, there is significant support for more affordable homes such as social housing. 48% of the public said there was not enough affordable homes such as social housing (7% saying too many). This was a marked contrast with new homes being built, which only 31% said there were too few (21% saying too many).

Full data tables from the poll available here