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Look what I found!

By Jo Phillips

By Jo Phillips

Jo Phillips on why the government is increasingly looking like the last shop on a deserted High St.

Imagine the scene, Rishi Sunak preparing to leave Downing St, the removal van’s gone, wife and kids gone, and making that last minute check, he comes across a crumpled piece of paper under the sofa. Stained with children’s crayon marks, wine and coffee spills, dog hair stuck to some grease spots but he can just make out the words ‘Levelling Up’. Well, well, whatever happened to that he might ponder as he scrunches it up and chucks it in the bin. It sounded and seemed like a good idea at the time and, it appeared that Boris Johnson was committed to making it a centrepiece of his government’s policy – although commitment and Boris Johnson are not words that sit easily together.

Government figures out this week show that over four million children live below the official poverty line, 1.5m of them make up the six million people existing in very deep poverty – near destitution – without the absolute basics to keep warm, dry, clean, housed and fed. Tens of thousands are classified homeless, many thousands more live in appalling housing conditions and it’s estimated that over 2.5million children are regularly missing meals. Poverty is endemic in the UK and while once would be largely due to unemployment, today that is no longer the case, millions of working families are living in poverty, simply unable to afford the very basics even though they’re working, often doing more than one insecure job and working unsocial hours. Charities, churches and community groups take up some of the slack. Teachers wash, feed and provide clothes for children where they can. People are, generally, kind and generous but there are some things that need political will and real power at local level to fix.

But, you might ask, what about the £10.47billion funding promised to reduce inequality as part of the levelling up agenda? Earlier this month, the public accounts committee said that only 10 percent has been spent and that ministers were ‘unable to provide any compelling examples of what levelling-up funding has delivered so far’ and accused the government of being ‘blinded by optimism’ in funding projects that were nowhere near feasible. In response, the government said it would take time to get major infrastructure projects under way. Ah, that’s it then. Fourteen years just isn’t long enough to tackle inequality. Not long enough to realise that years and years of cuts and more cuts to local government cannot be reversed by a begging bowl process to get levelling up funding. Not long enough to see the damage done by lack of investment in infrastructure and clearly not long enough to have noticed the growing numbers of families sliding down a spiral of poverty into hopelessness, poor health and, dire prospects.

This government is increasingly looking like the last shop on a deserted High St, the one with desperate signs ‘Closing Down, Everything Must Go’ before it too, gets shuttered up and no one can remember what used to be there. But then, just like the rivers and seas that have been polluted by water companies who care more about profits than investment and the environment, reward their top management for failure, one can’t help feeling that when it comes to levelling up, this government too is full of shit.

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