Stephen Daisley

It’s no wonder young people don’t understand levelling up

It's no wonder young people don't understand levelling up
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There are two ways Number 10 can look at new polling which shows only 14 per cent of Britons understand the slogan ‘levelling up’. The first: the government has utterly failed to communicate its signature policy. The second: at least they didn’t poll the Cabinet.

The findings, which come in research by Redfield & Wilton Strategies for PoliticsHome, are interesting for what they tell us about now much the slogan has cut through (66 per cent have heard of it) versus how much it's been understood (one in three haven’t the foggiest what it refers to). Ministers may not be all that troubled because political slogans function much like old movie trailers: their purpose is to convey an impression of a set of ideas — what, in film advertising, is called the ‘narrative image’ — rather than the detail itself. The narrative image of ‘levelling up’ is building up communities that haven’t benefited from economic advancement in recent years.

In short, if voters a) hear ‘levelling up’ and b) when they hear it, have even a vague sense that it’s about infrastructure and fairness, and c) connect it in some way to the current government, then the slogan is more than fulfilling its remit.

The Redfield & Wilton poll does throw up one finding that Conservatives should not be so quick to brush past, though. Yes, only 14 per cent of Brits know what ‘levelling up’ means, but the figure drops to roughly half that when you ask those aged 25-to-34. It’s not all that surprising that the young would struggle with the notion that the government is levelling up when it spends so much of its time with its boot on their heads.

Ministers are gutting planning reforms to placate backbenchers and older home owners. Where 19 per cent of 25-to-34-year-olds were private renters in 1997, that figure was 44 per cent 20 years later. Those aged 35-to-44 are three times more likely to be renters than they were in 1997.

At the same time, the government is hiking taxes on younger, asset-poor workers so that the social care of older, asset-rich people can be funded without those retirees having to part with these assets. As the Resolution Foundation noted, ‘a typical 25-year-old today will pay an extra £12,600 over their working lives from the employee part of the [National Insurance] tax rise alone, compared to nothing for most pensioners’. The government-boomer complex is kicking away the ladder for young people and picking their pockets on the way down. All this after 18 months in which the young were locked down and had their lives put on hold to mostly protect the elderly.

Becoming more politically conservative with age is sometimes spoken of as though it were an immutable law of human nature, rather than a process that reflects changing personal, social and financial circumstances. That assumption will begin to be tested in the next decade or two, when Britain will have a sizeable middle-aged population that doesn't own a home, isn’t raising children and lacks a sustainable pension. A party that believes in levelling up, and particularly one that considers itself the champion of self-improvement, families and property ownership, would urgently redraw its focus to include young people. If they don’t, the Conservatives have a rendezvous coming with voters who have nothing to conserve.