Levelling Up agenda “not focused enough on the most vulnerable people”

The Government White Paper on levelling-up, published last week, has been heavily criticised by social work leaders and campaigners.

09/02/22

Levelling Up agenda “not focused enough on the most vulnerable people”

Announcing the plans to Parliament, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the White Paper was “a wonderful moral and economic mission to level up and give opportunity across the whole country.”

However, no new funding will be given to support its proposals. Nor does the 300+-page document mention child poverty. The White Paper does not mention social work, and adult social care is referred to only once.

It says: “Some powers may only be available to certain authorities or geographies. There will also be scope to negotiate further powers, on a case-by-case basis, and an opportunity to adopt innovative local proposals to address specific challenges and opportunities – for example, the improvement of health and social care outcomes.”

Levelling up will be achieved through improvements grouped around 12 missions, focussing on, for example, living standards, public transport, local leadership, digital connectivity, well-being, skills, and housing. In relation to children and their families, the White Paper focusses mainly on improving outcomes in education and health.

However it adds: “Other factors beside time spent in the classroom also shape a child’s potential. Beyond the school gates, place will therefore remain central to the UK Government’s approach to early years and families. This includes continuing to work closely with local authorities to improve their children’s social care and special education needs and disability (SEND) services where those systems are performing poorly. The UK Government will invest £300m to build the network of Family Hubs and transform Start for Life services for parents and babies, carers and children in half of local authorities in England.’

Money and funds already announced will be central to the changes. The UK Government is also investing an extra £200m to expand the Supporting Families programme in England. This brings total investment to £695m over the next three years so that the programme can improve the life outcomes and resilience of up to 300,000 vulnerable families.

“The programme will help local areas to address the challenges in families’ lives and circumstances that can hold back children from attending and achieving at school, or put them at risk of neglect and harm. Funding is allocated based on need, and the formula has been updated using recent data. This will ensure that areas with higher levels of deprivation receive additional funding,” the White Paper said.

Reducing crime is among the 12 missions, and the plans include a specific proposal in relation to the Youth Justice System: ‘The UK Government recognises that too many communities are blighted by anti-social behaviour and criminality, sometimes committed by children. It is right that children make good on the damage they themselves have caused, and make amends by giving back to the communities and neighbourhoods they have harmed. That is why the UK Government will work with partners across the youth justice system to ramp up the use of unpaid work undertaken by 16- and 17-year olds as part of Youth Rehabilitation Orders and other existing powers.’

The proposals were immediately criticised by the British Association of Social Workers (BASW).

“The fact social work gets little to no mention in the report shows the Levelling Up agenda isn't focused enough on the most vulnerable people in our communities,” a spokesperson said.

“We must invest in rebuilding our capacity to help families that are suffering in poverty, to support our social workers so that services can effectively meet the rising demand we are seeing across the country - this would be a truer reflection of Levelling Up.”

Alison Garnham, Chief Executive of Child Poverty Action Group said the White Paper “has been a long time coming and meanwhile Universal Credit has been cut, energy prices are rising and living costs are soaring. Struggling families need help now – unfunded promises of buses and broadband tomorrow won’t pay today’s bills.”

“The paper contains twelve missions yet none of them are about how Government plans to get children out of poverty. It’s a glaring omission. Levelling up is meaningless if children and families are left going hungry. The Government must increase benefits by 6 per cent this April to match the expected inflation rate - anything less would leave low-income families and children even further behind.”

Katie Schmuecker, Deputy Director of Policy & Partnerships at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) said: “The Prime Minister has defined levelling up as delivering for the poorest, so this strategy should be assessed against its ability to reduce poverty across the country. A focus on rising employment, pay and productivity will only succeed if it delivers better jobs and pay for people on the lowest incomes. To make this happen we need to see investment in skills, childcare, local transport and affordable housing.”

“Plans to reform the private rented sector are long overdue and really welcome to see. If done well, they will drive up standards and strengthen tenants’ rights, creating a more just housing system.

“We welcome the wide-ranging set of missions and targets but as ever, the proof will be in the delivery. Local areas must be trusted to make decisions about what is best for them, and crucially must be given the investment and powers they need to achieve this.

“The lack of new funding announced today, and an approach to devolution that appears to be quite centrally controlled, suggest more needs to be done before the reality of these plans meets the rhetoric.”

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