Don’t stop now! – Levelling Up must be more than a slogan
What a week we’ve just come through! Just a few days ago, I wouldn’t have even entertained the idea that I would be struggling to find out who the ministers are in the government departments we work closest with—that being Health and Social Care and Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. And, as I write this, it is still far from clear who will be given the various responsibilities in these departments and what their own personalities could bring to the role.
A change of Conservative Party leader, and subsequent change of Prime Minister, could also bring a change of direction. But when it comes to Levelling Up and dealing with health inequalities, a change of direction would be the wrong move.
We could debate the degree to which the Levelling Up agenda was more than just a catchy election slogan. However, it is government policy now and this leaves us with a great opportunity. If we, as a nation, overcome the deep-seated inequalities within our regions, we can unleash talent and possibilities in a way that no technological advance could bring. Levelling Up has potential to release possibilities and wealth throughout the country and unchain our greatest asset—people.
That is not to ignore the importance of technology. Lockdown highlighted new ways of working that many of us are still using. When meeting new people, I will always say that in-person is best—but the benefits of ‘Zooming’ means we can instantly access distant parts of the country without the expense of travel. With the current cost of living crisis, perhaps one weapon we have at our disposal is our flexibility. We can be more selective in what we spend time and money doing. What this has also shown is that much of the office-based work of London can be done remotely, and this could serve as a boost to regional economies as people decide to balance their weeks in different locations.
Much focus has been on home-working but let us go beyond that. After all, that option is not available to everyone. When we decide to solve a problem, we can do amazing things. Let’s reflect on how we as a nation responded to the COVID-19 crisis: brewers of gin turning their hand to producing hand sanitiser, mutual aid groups creating new relationships, and the setting up of Nightingale Hospitals at lightning pace, utilising large public spaces to help relieve pressure on hospital wards.
What if such ingenuity was applied to Levelling Up and health inequalities? One of the reasons the vaccine roll-out in the UK was so successful is that the Army was involved in the logistics. The single-minded focus of the military in intense situations, to solve a problem and deliver an outcome, is what can make a difference—slicing through bureaucracy.
One of my favourite scriptures comes from Paul’s second letter to Timothy—’A soldier does not get entangled in civilian affairs…’ (2 Tim. 2.4). It would be all too easy for the incoming leadership of the Conservative Party to become distracted by politics, virtue signalling and grandstanding. Right now, we need leaders with a vision and a plan to create a more prosperous society, not only in terms of economic wealth, but social, educational, and health and wellbeing wealth as well.