We need health, education, business support, to level up – not infrastructure: report

People and businesses in ‘red wall’ constituencies that switched from Labour to Conservative at the 2019 general election suffer from a wide range of educational, health, social and economic disadvantages compared with other parts of the country, but not always  from poor infrastructure, according to a new report.

‘We won’t level up by only building a strong economy or by providing better infrastructure, such as bridges and trains, said Professor Matthew Goodwin, director of the Legatum Institute’s Centre for UK Prosperity, which produced the report.

‘If we’re serious about levelling up, we’ve got to address the adult skills crisis, ensure SMEs [small businesses] can access the finance they need to flourish, and invest in improving people’s physical and mental health, as well as in the safety and security of local communities.

Baroness Philippa Stroud, chief executive of the Legatum Institute, said:

‘The UK stands at a reset moment, charting a new course towards “Global Britain” and finding a way out of the Covid-19 pandemic as a global leader in the design, development, and distribution of effective vaccines.

‘To make the most of this moment, the country will need to unlock prosperity across all of its regions and communities.  To do that, it’s vital we know exactly what is working and what needs further attention as we seek to level up and bring opportunity to the whole country. 

‘The lack of access to business loans and adult qualifications in red wall areas are clearly some of the key places to start as the government puts the finishing touches on its Levelling Up White Paper.

‘The decisions the country makes now will have a profound impact on its future development for generations to come.’

The report studied 43 areas that switched from Labour to Conservative at the 2019 general election. Among its findings:

  • the proportion of adults with no qualifications is 10.4% vs 7.8% nationally (a third more);
  • 31% of adults have at least level 4 qualifications compared to 39.9% for the rest of the country;
  • the value of loans provided to SMEs by major banks is £3,205 per person compared to £4,555 per person nationally (42% more);
  • business start-up rates are 46 per 10,000 compared to 54 per 10,000 people nationally (17% more); and
  • there are 13.8% more deaths between the ages of 20-64 and 31% more homicides compared with the national average.

If you live in a red wall area you are more likely to:

  • have diabetes (8% vs 6.9% nationally);
  • have a disability (24% vs 21.6% nationally);
  • be obese as an adult (66% vs 62.7% nationally);
  • be obese as a child (24.2% vs 22.3% nationally);
  • die from alcohol misuse (13.2 deaths per 100,000 vs 11.9 nationally);
  • die when under 1 year old (4.3 deaths per 1000 live births vs 3.8 nationally);
  • die when between the ages of 1-19 (13.7 deaths per 100,000 vs 12.7 nationally);
  • die when between the ages of 20-64 (266.2 deaths per 100,000 vs 233.9 nationally);
  • have a lower life expectancy at 65 (18.5 years vs 19.9 nationally);
  • suffer from depression (12.8% vs 11.1% nationally).

There are more homicides in red wall areas (14.8 per 100,000) compared to the national average (11.3).

However, in the red wall areas:

  • download speeds are slightly faster, on average, than the rest of the country (74.4 Mb/s vs 72.1) and superfast broadband is available in more than 96% of properties, compared to 95% across the UK;
  • just 7% of properties are not connected to the gas network, compared to 14% across the UK;
  • there is almost 10% less urban congestion (57.5 hours/year lost to congestion compared to a UK average of 63.7 hours / year); and
  • only 2.9% of principal roads and 4.3% of non-principal roads need maintenance compared to the UK average of 3.4% and 4.9% respectively.