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Fewer Than A Fifth Of People Say They Fully Understand What Levelling Up Means

4 min read

Exclusive: The government still has a long way to go in its efforts to inform the public of what levelling up actually means, according to new polling that shows only 14% of Britons have completely grasped the concept.

A survey carried out for PoliticsHome by Redfield & Wilton Strategies has shown that despite widespread awareness of the phrase "levelling up", people are still mostly uncertain as to what the government's flagship policy actually entails. 

Amost a third (31%) of 1,700 people polled earlier this week said they have no understanding at all of what levelling up means.

A majority have only partially grasped the aims of the policy, with 25% saying they're somewhat aware and 30% saying they're moderately aware.

Just 14% of respondents reported being very aware of what levelling up means.

Despite an overall uncertainty over its meaning, the phrase levelling up, which is used regularly by Boris Johnson and other senior minister, and has recently been used to rename a government department, has had significant cut-through. 

Two-thirds (66%) of those polled said they have heard of the term before, compared to 34% who have not.

But the recognition figure drops in the target levelling up regions of the East Midlands and North West, where only 55% and 57% of residents respectively say they have heard the term.

The new polling for PoliticsHome comes in the wake of last week’s Conservative Party Annual Conference, which put levelling up at the heart of its agenda, with 37 fringe events dedicated to the subject.

Johnson has consistently promised to "level up" the UK since he became Prime Minister in 2019, and in last month's cabinet reshuffle put Michael Gove in charge of delivering it at a government department newly re-named with the slogan. 

During a conference fringe event hosted by the think tank Policy Exchange, government minister Neil O’Brien described levelling up as a four-fold concept involving empowering local leaders and communities, growing the private sector in areas with lower living standards, improving public services, and heightening civic pride. 

"It is an agenda for the whole country and it's going to help all people who felt neglected for a long time,” O’Brien told an audience of party members and business representatives.

“We are a slightly different political party after the 2019 election and the 2016 [Brexit referendum] result. We have a lot more colleagues in places that once upon a time people told us we would never ever get to,” the minister added.

As part of its mission to level up, this year the government introduced a £4.8 billion levelling up fund, created new combined mayoral authorities, based some civil servant jobs away from Whitehall and into towns and cities across Britain’s regions and formed a £3.6 billion towns fund. 

A further set of levelling up policies and metrics for judging their success will also be laid out in a new white paper, due to be published in the next month.

Last week Conservative MPs and members told PoliticsHome they emerged from party conference with a clearer and more nuanced appreciation of the substance behind the levelling up slogan.

“In his speech, Michael Gove made it abundantly clear that levelling up is about raising living standards and aspirations," Stockton South MP Matt Vickers told PoliticsHome.

Ipswich MP Tom Hunt said that "from some conversations I’ve had with others, conference has been helpful in helping them understand what it is”.

But this week’s polling suggests that a detailed understanding of the phrase may not yet have reached outside of Conservative insider circles.

Among 25-34-year-olds surveyed, only 8% say they completely understand what levelling up means. 

A spokesperson for the new Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said the policy was about communities "seize[ing] their own destiny", and improving public services, and promised more detail on specific policies was forthcoming. 

They added: “The Government will publish a white paper that will drive forward our central mission to level up every corner of the UK, setting out further details on future devolution and our plans for strengthening local accountable leadership.”

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