The Government needs to clearly define its “levelling-up” agenda as focusing only on geographic areas will not reach some of the poorest people hardest-hit by Covid-19, according to research.
Nearly a fifth of people in the poorest neighbourhoods are living in some of the wealthiest areas of the country, meaning non-economic measures like physical and mental health at the neighbourhood level need to be considered, said the Covid Recovery Commission.
It said the impact of the pandemic on mental health has been most apparent among the most deprived, with Covid-19 mortality rates the highest in the poorest neighbourhoods.
Metro mayors and local authorities should get more powers and money to deliver the policies at a more targeted level, “driving local accountability for actions”, it recommended.
The commission, set up in July, is made up of business leaders focusing on generating policy to drive Britain’s post-coronavirus economic recovery.
It is spearheaded by Tesco chairman John Allan, who said: “Without a clear definition and set of metrics to assess progress, it is difficult to see how we can provide a ladder of opportunity for people living in some of the most deprived communities.
“Just as important is to hold people accountable at a local level to ensure measures and funding lead to results.”
Helen Barnard, director of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and advisory group member, said: “It’s not right that both the health and economic impacts of this pandemic have fallen most heavily on the people who were already struggling to stay afloat, and the local economies which were already lagging behind.
“Levelling up is now more crucial than ever, and it needs to offer a reliable route out of poverty for families all over the UK.
“The response must match high-quality jobs with targeted skills and employment support for those most exposed to the coming wave of unemployment.”
Key findings from the report, produced by WPI Economics, include:
– North-west England has the greatest number of people – 1.6 million – living in the 10 per cent most deprived neighbourhoods in the UK, followed by Yorkshire and The Humber, with 1.1 million.
– More than half of people living in the 10 per cent poorest neighbourhoods are outside the North of England (36 per cent in the rest of England and 15 per cent in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland).
– 18 per cent of people in the most deprived neighbourhoods – 1.15 million people – are in local authority areas with the highest economic output.
– Even after controlling for a range of other factors, in the 20 per cent most deprived neighbourhoods there have been an average of 21 more Covid-19 deaths per 100,000 population compared with the least deprived neighbourhoods.
The proportion of people experiencing moderate to severe depression has increased by 14 percentage points for those who say they could not afford an unexpected expense, compared with eight percentage points for those who could afford one.
Last month, Conservative MPs launched a taskforce to lead Government efforts to reduce regional inequality and “champion ideas to boost Britain’s lagging areas”.
A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said it is launching a call for evidence on Monday “to shine a light on the route to a brighter future for those who have for too long been left behind”.
Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey said: “Coming out of this emergency, as we shall, people will need hope and opportunity more than ever – and we will not be blown off course.
“Now is the time to be laying the groundwork for the future when people will be able to, and striving to, progress.
“Employers and other organisations have so much expertise to offer in this area, with first-hand experience of raising talent up, helping it flourish and boosting families’ futures.
“And they can help us respond to the changing jobs market, by ensuring training and skills meet the demands of the coming decades and evolving industries.”
Picture: A woman opens her empty purse. (Stas_V).