Levelling Up for Young People

With a new Prime Minister set to be announced next week, and the cost of living crisis raging on, many of Boris Johnson’s flagship policies find themselves at crossroads, not least Levelling Up. Designed to address regional inequalities and ensure equitable access to success and opportunities across the UK, the substance of Levelling Up was finally substantiated in the Levelling Up White Paper published in February 2022. In it, the UK Government announced 12 key missions to ‘level up’ across the UK, covering everything from skills to crime and broadband.

For young people, there is one major policy commitment, the National Youth Guarantee, a commitment to ensuring that ‘by 2025, every young person in England will have access to regular out of school activities, adventures away from home and opportunities to volunteer’. This is a widely supported policy in principle and a positive step to ensuring all young people have access to a diversity of opportunities. However, while there are a few mentions of the importance of skills and early age interventions, outside of this there is little focus on, or concrete commitments for, young people or what they may want and need from the Levelling Up agenda.

It is little surprise then that the 2022 BFPG Annual Public Opinion Survey found that while 91% of over 55s have heard of Levelling Up, just 70% of under 35s have, with just 15% of under 35s feeling they fully understand what Levelling Up means. However, as young people are particularly geographically mobile and given the importance of investment at a young age for equalising future prospects, there is a clear opportunity for symbiosis between Levelling Up and tackling intergenerational inequality. The selection of a new Prime Minister therefore provides a timely opportunity to reshape Levelling Up and harness this opportunity to improve the lives of young people.

So, what would Levelling Up for young people look like?

– Ensuring diverse career opportunities are available across the UK – Despite efforts to encourage job creation across all regions of the UK, it is still the case that many early career roles, particularly for graduates, are concentrated in London. Opportunities are needed not just for first jobs but also genuine prospects for building careers outside of the capital. There are two particularly clear opportunities for this. The first is by working with Higher Education Institutions to enable graduates to pursue careers near their alma mater – young people already have roots in these communities but lack pathways to access careers there. Secondly, given young people’s desire to work for employers they view as sustainable, the government’s focus on the creation of green jobs provides a valuable opportunity to attract young people to diverse areas of the UK.

– Investment in affordable housing – With rental prices in London rising over 15% in the last three months alone, anxiety about the housing market is particularly high among young people. Many young people are trapped in the rental market, unable to save to buy a home, and increasingly frustrated. They are eager for any opportunity to step onto the housing ladder and so investment in housing that young people can afford across the UK, will be an important step in both tackling intergenerational inequality and helping to attract young people to these areas.

– Social and cultural investment – 23% of Gen Z want to leave their home town because it ‘stifles their creativity’. For young people, living somewhere with exciting cultural and social activities is therefore particularly important on both a personal and professional level. Investment in social and cultural opportunities aimed at young people from nightclubs and bars to galleries and theatres are key to creating an environment for young people to enjoy and thrive.

– Affordable public transport for young people – The creation of the 16-25 railcard has done much to make rail transport more affordable for young people.  However, with a return ticket from London to Manchester often costing upwards of £100, rail travel still remains incredibly expensive, even with young people discounts. However, while the mass exodus to big cities remains the norm, the cost and speed at which young people reach their friends in the big cities, as well as their families across the UK, will remain a key factor in their willingness to move to diverse regions of the UK.

There is a clear amount of overlap between many of these youth priorities and the Levelling Up agenda as it stands. It requires only a small amount of extra legwork then, for government to reflect on how these policies can also work for young people. For example, prioritising social and cultural investment into social and cultural activities that appeal to young people or building homes suitable and affordable for early career professionals, will work to ensure Levelling Up works for young people and ultimately will help ensure the success of Levelling Up itself.

Interested in youth issues? Our sister organisation OurVoice is running an event on youth mental health on the 15th September. Register here.

Evie Aspinall

Evie is the Director of the British Foreign Policy Group