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For levelling up to succeed we must fix the crisis of opportunity

4 min read

We face a crisis of opportunity which is preventing so many people and places from reaching their true potential. Highlighted by Covid, it is clear that opportunity is not spread evenly across the UK.

Overcoming this crisis is central to whether levelling-up – the definitive political project of this decade – is a success. The levelling up white paper clearly puts opportunity rightfully front and centre of the government’s thinking, but it can only be achieved by bringing together leaders across all sections of our society; including in politics, business and civil society.

In 2020 we launched the Purpose Coalition to bring together exactly that – a group of the most committed purpose-led leaders in the country from both private and public sector organisations committed to widening opportunity.

It’s first major piece of work saw the development of the Purpose Goals architecture, known as the Levelling Up Goals in the UK, which allows organisations to articulate their purpose and measure their social impact. The 14 goals provide a common framework around key life stages and break down the challenges of equality of opportunity.

We have seen over and over again the power of local knowledge and local experience in action

There is no doubt that talent is spread evenly throughout all parts of the country – but opportunity is not. This is why we need a greater understanding of how to spread opportunity and allow everyone the equal chance of social mobility, no matter where they come from or where they live.

Crucially, we must not take a one-size-fits-all approach given that each local community is unique. Whether it’s access to early learning, better health and wellbeing, improving digital skills, building homes, or harnessing the energy transition, different communities have different priorities. 

No single group or organisation has the answers to each of these problems, which is why we need widespread collaboration to ensure that there is long-lasting and tangible change, with different organisations making a significant impact in various areas of the levelling up agenda and focusing on the areas where they can really make a difference. 

Instead of a top-down approach, working with the Purpose Coalition has been key to understanding what works on the ground in different communities. The Purpose Goals architecture allows our partners across the country to map best practice, track progress, report outcomes and ensure measurable impact on their staff, customers and communities.

We have seen over and over again the power of local knowledge and local experience in action. This doesn’t mean that central government support and resources aren’t important – they’re crucial – but it must be based on the know-how of those organisations helping people in the most deprived areas access opportunity. 

Measurement is also key to driving real change, as we know that what gets measured gets done. This is why we have worked with the ONS to develop a set of metrics for each Goal, providing a common approach to measuring impact. Purpose Coalition organisations are steadily adopting equality of opportunity metrics and asking key questions to measure their internal impact.

Our organisation is fostering the framework and these strong metrics to ensure that leaders across politics, business and civil society can collaborate effectively. They are setting the standard on the social aspect of ESG, adopted by organisations with a huge social footprint; including Co-op, bp, Compass, Pennon Group, Adecco, the BBC, Direct Line Group, NHS organisations and universities.

We’ve also recently welcomed the support of Sir Keith Mills and his team at Europe’s leading lottery operator Allwyn. The organisation is currently applying to become the next operator of The National Lottery, which sits at the very heart of civil society, but is also finalising its own levelling up plans.

The organisations that have signed up to the Levelling Up Goals are committing considerable resources and expertise to drive social value. This is how levelling-up should be defined, and it gives me real belief that this vital national project can deliver on its goals.  

We’ve identified the key issues, established a credible framework for dealing with them, and developed strong metrics to record the progress. Now is the time for organisations of all shapes and sizes to work out their role in driving levelling up to change this country for the better.


Justine Greening is the former Conservative MP for Putney and former Secretary of State for Education. She is the founder of the Social Mobility Pledge.

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