Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has announced the allocation of a second round of ‘levelling up’ funds to areas across the UK.
Amounting to over £2 billion in public spending, the Conservative government seem keen to give the impression that they are serious about fighting poverty across the country.
However, as with the first round of funding, this will at best help build the appearance of affluent communities, while failing to address the real causes of poverty in Britain.
With 22% of the UK population living in poverty – according to the Department for Work and Pensions – this is an issue that even a Tory government cannot entirely ignore.
According to Sunak, “two thirds of all the levelling up funding is going to the most deprived parts of our country. Levelling up is about making sure people feel pride in the places they call home – it’s about driving jobs and investment.”
But tackling poverty is not a matter of how much money is spent, or to which areas of the country it goes. What matters is whether the projects being funded will actually address its root causes.
It should perhaps go without saying that the Conservative Party is not actually seeking to fight poverty. It is not in the interest of the Tories – or the capitalist class they represent – to address the economic order that leads to deprived areas in the first place.
Projects to be funded include a £40 million carbon-neutral campus in Blackpool, £50 million for the Eden Project in Morecombe to develop a seafront tourist attraction, and £50 million for Crossrail Cardiff to build a new line.
Meanwhile another £19 million of funding will go to the Prime Minister’s own constituency, Richmond, towards the armed forces’ Catterick Garrison.
While no one could complain about a carbon-neutral campus, or a new train connection between Cardiff Central and Cardiff Bay, these projects do nothing to help the millions of people in Britain who struggle to afford regular travel by train, nor for an education sector that has suffered through years of oversized classes, underpaid staff, academisation, and for-profit higher education.
What levelling up offers is mostly one-off funding for certain projects to provide a thin veneer of rejuvenation, at best. We should expect nothing more from a Tory government.
Levelling up will not resurrect the high streets of Britain. As long as the country keeps to a capitalist system, only big monopolies will survive competition on the market and local businesses will be left to go bust.
A one-time boost of government spending will not undo the years of austerity that have worked to destroy our NHS, to close our youth centres, and to overwork and underpay public sector workers – from teachers, to firefighters, to social workers.
The Tories have both permitted and worsened the levels of poverty in Britain, so it would be foolish to expect the solution to come from the very same party. Sunak can’t actually do anything to help our deprived areas, because that would require well-funded public services, real-term pay rises for millions of workers, and a reversal of the privatisation brought in under his party and maintained by New Labour.
Though the above measures are entirely achievable, they would require biting into big businesses’ profits; the same big businesses that help fund the Tory party and their friends in the mainstream press.
As a result, levelling up is destined to join phrases such as ‘build back better’ in promising a lot and delivering very little. Not by mistake – but by design.
Mia English, is Challenge’s News Editor