Evidence from the social sciences: Levelling up in the UK

Photo credit: John Cameron on Unsplash


Levelling up is a flagship policy of the current government. However, currently it is a powerful but rather nebulous rhetorical phrase that is open to interpretation. Some see it as a tide raising all boats, others as a computer game analogy for progress. Meanwhile the Prime Minister has attempted to outline what it entails.

Clearly, the social sciences can and must play a vital role shaping the levelling up policy and its implementation if it is going to succeed. It is only through social science that we can truly understand the burning issues of inequality in life chances between different people and places and effectively select, refine, and evaluate the action we then take.

Within this hub, leading social scientists, and others, will set out evidence-based priorities for making levelling up a reality. As it grows the hub will point to a wide range of ambitious ideas across a diverse range of topics and it will showcase how social science evidence and thinking can contribute as the UK grapples with how to take levelling up as seriously as the ambition deserves.

Comment and analysis

Will Hutton FAcSS |  An end to neglect – levelling up through innovation and reinvention
Will Hutton is the President of the Academy of Social Sciences. He is a political economist, author and journalist. With this piece Will launches the Campaign for Social Science’s hub focussing on ‘Levelling Up’. He outlines some key priorities which he believes the Government must focus upon for the levelling up agenda to make sense and for it to be successful. The piece uses research and data from the social sciences to highlight issues, challenges and opportunities relating to resource disbursement; civic leadership; innovation, technology and green energy; the role of finance; transport and connectivity; and the importance of education generally and vocational education specifically.

Professor Diane Coyle | Levelling up can’t be done top-down
Professor Diane Coyle is the Bennett Professor of Public Policy at the University of Cambridge. Diane is also a Director of the Productivity Institute, a Fellow of the Office for National Statistics, and an expert adviser to the National Infrastructure Commission. In this piece she points to evidence suggesting that successful levelling up would necessarily entail devolving decision-making away from the centre, alongside improving infrastructure in areas including transport, broadband provision and health and social care. 

Dr Jennifer Dixon | We know how to level up health: here’s how and why
Dr Jennifer Dixon is Chief Executive of the Health Foundation. She was formerly Chief Executive of the Nuffield Trust from 2008 to 2013. She was also Director of Policy at The King’s Fund and was the policy advisor to the Chief Executive of the National Health Service between 1998 and 2000.  In this piece Jennifer provides evidence that highlights the major role improving public health must play if we are to truly level up in the UK.  Jennifer makes the case for measures such as improving working conditions; reducing smoking; investing in the NHS; creating new cross-ministerial mechanisms and institutions; and devolution of decision-making and resources to local government.

Professor Danny Dorling FAcSS | Levelling up taxation, funding and education
Danny Dorling is the Halford Mackinder Professor of Geography at the University of Oxford. His areas of expertise include housing, health, employment, education, wealth and poverty.  In this piece Danny explores some of the complexities and nuances of inequality in the UK. In so doing, he provides an informed view on the right kind of data to use to target resources and efforts to truly level up. Danny also shines a light on some compelling evidence which makes the case for progressive taxation and reforming education funding as essential ingredients of effective levelling up.