UK WBG response to the Levelling-Up White Paper
Date Posted: Wednesday 2nd February 2022
UK Women’s Budget Group Response to Levelling Up White Paper
2nd February 2022
The Government’s White Paper, published today, sets out some positive plans for levelling up. However it fails to acknowledge that much inequality, including regionally, has been exacerbated by austerity policies. Cuts to local government grants from central government hit poorer regions the hardest while cuts to social security further lowered incomes in these areas.
We’re encouraged by the focus on education as well as investment in skills training and employment. However the plan is still heavily geared towards physical infrastructure with little consideration for the role that social infrastructure such as adult and child care play in enabling people, particularly women, to take up those employment and training opportunities. One of the glaring omissions of the Government’s plans is how it will attempt to address the specific barriers women face in availing of the opportunities such interventions aim to create.
Pay, Employment and Productivity
We welcome the paper’s recognition of the need to improve pay and employment in every part of the UK. However the plan does not include any targets or interventions to address the gender pay and employment gaps.
- The WBG believes that equality, wellbeing, and sustainability rather than growth should be the primary aim of Government economic policy.
- Most governments aim to maximise the growth of GDP, in the belief that this will increase living standards.
- However, today, economic growth is not correlated with improvements in wellbeing, but instead is associated with rising inequality and severe environmental degradation.
Our conception of the economy and what counts as economic policy must change, to include the centrality of care, to recognise and value paid and unpaid work, wellbeing as well as output of goods and services, and ecological limits as well as human innovations
The ‘Levelling Up’ White Paper outlines a plan to significantly increase, by 2030, the number of primary school children achieving the expected standard in reading, writing and maths. It suggests that, in England, this will mean 90% of children will achieve the expected standard, and the percentage of children meeting the expected standard in the worst performing areas will have increased by over a third.
We welcome the recognition that good quality primary education is critical, but this pledge does not go far enough in recognising the value of early years education in closing the attainment gap which has been stagnating for several years. The Covid-19 pandemic has drawn attention to the important role that the education system plays in reducing inequalities.
- With successive lockdowns and school closures widening gaps between disadvantaged pupils and their peers, adequate funding for schools is even more important now than it was prior to the pandemic.
- Between 2010 and 2019, schools in England saw per pupil funding decline by 9% in real terms.
- While the 2019 Spending Round sought to reverse these cuts through £7.1 billion of additional spending, some of these gains are now under threat from Covid-related pressures.
- A recent survey found that nearly half of schools said they were having to draw on reserves to cover Covid-related costs, and a similar proportion said they were unlikely to balance their books by the end of the year.
- Additional support from government has been modest and poorly targeted, with an £80 per pupil catch up premium and £350 million tutoring scheme, but only the latter targeted specifically at disadvantaged pupils.
A failure to address the childcare crisis will increase educational inequalities between poorer children and their wealthier peers, entrench inequality and prevent millions of parents, especially mothers, from accessing the labour market. Given the proven role that high quality care has in closing educational inequalities, the possibility of improving achievement of primary school pupils will be considerably more expensive without high quality universal childcare.
The White Paper sets out plans to significantly increase in every area of the UK, by 2030, the number of people successfully completing high-quality skills training. The papers suggests that in England, this will lead to 200,000 more people successfully completing high-quality skills training annually, driven by 80,000 more people completing courses in the lowest skilled areas.
Investment in training is welcome but, in order to properly level-up, the Government needs to recognise that training and apprenticeships schemes are an opportunity to restructure the labour market by reversing the occupational segregation.
- This means not only taking on equal numbers of women in all types of skill training, but also training programmes targeted specifically at upskilling and retraining women, who are more likely to take time out of paid employment due to caring responsibilities.
- Women need access to training and reskilling that reflects the changes they experience across their life-course. Training opportunities that are only available to those on out-of- work benefits exclude a significant proportion of women who are economically inactive because of caring responsibilities, but who are not registered as unemployed.
- Life-long learning opportunities need to target women who, rather than being given the opportunity to use and update existing skills or retrain, currently take unskilled work that is more compatible with childcare responsibilities and may be permanently lost to the skilled workforce
- Without universal, affordable, high quality childcare provision significant numbers of people (predominantly women) will not be able to engage in employment or training so objectives around pay, productivity and training will not be achieved.
- Investment in the care sector would not only create well-paid, rewarding jobs for men and women, it would also improve provision of services, allowing people to stay rooted in their local communities and, in some cases, continue to actively contribute to their local economies.
The Levelling Up White Paper pledges that, by 2030, renters will have a secure path to ownership with the number of first-time buyers increasing in all areas. It also sets out ambition for the number of non-decent rented homes to fall by 50%, with the biggest improvements in the lowest performing areas.
We welcome the Government’s plans to enact the Dormant Assets Scheme, however it only represents a one-off opportunity for investment and is the wrong focus for using housing to achieve levelling-up. Far greater ambition is needed in the Government’s approach to housing if it is serious about levelling up.
- Housing is fundamental to life, security, and wellbeing as well as tackling climate change and working towards a zero-carbon future.
- The Government must act now to massively increase the building of new, low carbon social housing, with guaranteed low rents.
- Houses need to be built in areas that need them – people should not have to move out of their locality to get decent secure housing.
- This approach to housing would provide security for families and reduce the level of housing benefit, currently required to cover the cost of unaffordable private rents.
Housing is a gendered issue. Differences in income and life circumstances translate into gendered effects in housing. Although our understanding of these effects is limited by gaps in official housing data, the evidence suggests that women are more affected than men by unaffordability, unsafe conditions and overcrowding.
See our latest briefing on housing.
The White Paper sets out a plan for every part of England that wants one to have a devolution deal with powers at or approaching the highest level of devolution and a simplified, long-term funding settlement, by 2030.
This commitment to devolution is essential if the Government is to achieve its levelling up agenda. However, the benefits of devolution will not be unlocked unless it is recognised as an approach to do things differently – an opportunity to ensure diverse women’s voices are heard and that policy makers make decisions to advance gender equality.
We hope that alongside the full Levelling Up White Paper, the Government publishes the Equality Impact Assessment that it has carried out as part of this planning. Next week, the UK WBG will publish a full response to the White Paper.
For further comment, please contact Sarah Ronan / firstname.lastname@example.org / 07399 782336