Some of England’s most deprived areas are missing out on the government’s levelling up funding despite being in the greatest need, research by the Salvation Army has found.
The charity’s report found that although coastal and rural areas suffered higher levels of deprivation, government calculations meant they were not feeling the benefits of the flagship £4.8billion levelling up fund.
The fund was set up to drive Boris Johnson’s electoral promise to new voters in the “Red Wall” that they would no longer lose out to richer areas in the south in terms of investment, infrastructure and employment opportunities.
But the Salvation Army found that the government had not examined local labour markets in enough detail, including factors such as zero hour contracts, seasonal employment, poor access to childcare and fledgling industries that left people in insecure work.
While the government identified that 93 areas should be given access to levelling up funding, the Salvation Army said a further 45 areas – including the north west, Yorkshire and the Humber, the east Midlands, the east of England and the south west – were in “urgent need” of investment.
The research is sure to fuel criticism that “levelling up” focuses more on big infrastructure projects like road and rail links rather than issues like skills and work conditions.
Rebecca Keating, the Salvation Army’s director of employment services, called on the government to “look up from the spreadsheet and see what we are seeing on the ground”.
“Many people told us they have been stuck in low-skill seasonal jobs, which are now at risk following the pandemic but they are too old to easily access training courses to re-skill,” Keating said.
“One of the most common issues are single parents faced with jobs offering wages that don’t cover the cost of their childcare.
“Every day we work with people who are being pushed even further from employment as local businesses close, or they are trapped in a cycle of low-paid seasonal work and zero hours contracts.”
The government has said it will produce a white paper in the autumn outlining its levelling up intentions.
The Salvation Army called on the government to rethink how need is calculated so that investment is given to the areas that most need it.
A spokesperson for the ministry of housing, communities and local government said: “The government is levelling up all areas of the country, with billions of pounds of investment to support and regenerate communities, including coastal areas.
“These have already benefited from over £250 million through successful bids into town deals and from the future high streets fund.
“The published methodologies for our funds such as the levelling up fund and UK community renewal fund make clear the metrics used to identify places judged to be most in need of funding, taking into account productivity, unemployment and skills.”