Boris Johnson’s plan to ‘level up’ Britain sounds long overdue. It implies the creation of a less geographically unequal United Kingdom. What’s not to like?
The motivating theory behind ‘levelling up’ seems to go like this: London, the beating heart of this relatively affluent corner of our nation, has had plenty of investment in recent years. It is now time to listen to the needs of the newly-Conservative ‘Red Wall’ and Leave-voting ‘left behind’ communities in the north of England. These areas have been ignored for decades, and recently voiced their displeasure at the ballot box. But the reality is rather more complicated – and there is a danger that, yet again, London’s poorest get left behind.
The ‘Red Wall’ is made up of extremely different places. It is rich, poor, and everything in between. Stereotyping these new Tory constituencies as a homogenous, deprived block is a mistake. But the same is true of the capital, where the engine that drives the national economy exists alongside poverty rates higher than any other UK region. There are communities in Hounslow and Haringey for whom power and opportunity feel as distant and remote as those in Hartlepool and Hull. With the ruling Conservative party focused on ‘levelling up’, and Labour embarrassed by accusations of being ‘London-centric’, who is going to argue for ‘levelling up’ London’s left behind communities?
In recent years, as governments of all hues have tried different methods to rebalance the economy away from the capital, London’s poor have stayed poor. Not only are poverty rates higher in the capital than elsewhere, driven in part, but not exclusively, by housing costs, but child poverty rates are also shamefully high in areas of London. London is the most