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Taking action on levelling up by investing in future generations

Published

23 Jul 2021

EIF chief executive Dr Jo Casebourne sets out why social investment is an essential part of levelling up communities across the country. ‘The next step,’ she says, ‘in investing in the growth and development of these communities is giving local places the freedom to invest in the people who live there.’

This article was originally published by LGC.


Last week’s speech by the Prime Minister signalled his intent on ‘levelling up’, and his government will now be focused on taking action, making sure that key Conservative policies give everyone the same opportunities to get on in life, no matter where they live.

This action needs to go beyond where the levelling up agenda started – with its much-needed focus on improving transport and high streets to make a visible difference in local areas that have been left behind. The next step in investing in the growth and development of these communities is giving local places the freedom to invest in the people who live there – supporting future generations so that all children wherever they live can reach their full potential.

The good news is that the evidence shows that this investment will lead to large pay-offs, for children and families themselves, for local communities and for the wider economy. Investing in children’s development in the early years, through supporting parenting, making sure children have a set-up at home that enables them to learn and that they arrive at school ready to learn is money well spent. Long-term pay-offs are particularly large when they lead to improvements in employment and earnings.

The Department for Education has estimated that individuals with five or more good GCSEs as their highest qualification have lifetime productivity gains of £100,000 on average, compared to those with qualifications below this level. When compared with children with no qualifications, these gains are £260,000. There is also evidence that increasing children’s academic performance could increase the long-term economic growth rate of the UK. Even small improvements in attainment at school, particularly for children at risk of the poorest academic outcomes, have the potential for large economic benefits.

So, what does this mean for where government should invest, in the Spending Review and beyond? We know that intervening early in services backed by good evidence of effectiveness can lead to better outcomes from public spending. Schools, police, the NHS and local government all play a crucial role in the delivery of these services, and national government also has a role to play in coordinating this to ensure the most vulnerable families are supported.

What does this mean in practice? In schools it means ensuring that support for children and young people’s mental health is resourced as part of education catch-up planning. For the police, who are often the first to identify children or families who need support, it means investing in the approaches with the best evidence of preventing crime amongst children and young people. For the NHS it means investing in intensive home visiting between birth and age two, which has been shown to reduce income-related learning gaps and improve children’s language development. And for local government it means investing in evidence-based services to support the most vulnerable families, strengthening relationships in families, as well as reducing conflict and stress. Action from central government to tackle child poverty is also vital, as services alone cannot support vulnerable and struggling families.

Using the Spending Review for these types of investment also provides an opportunity to build back better following the pandemic. Investment in early intervention across a range of public services now can stop problems caused or made worse by Covid from getting worse still, and can help children and families who are struggling to recover from the effects of the pandemic. This will ensure that this generation of children do not have to live with the knock-on effects of the pandemic for the rest of their lives

Let’s make sure we seize this opportunity to take action on levelling up, to make a difference for generations to come.

About the author

Dr Jo Casebourne

Jo is chief executive at EIF.