Rebuilding Britain’s communities through the UKSPF

Economic growth that is distributed fairly across society should be an overarching principle that drives the government’s post-covid recovery efforts.

By helping to create a fairer and more equitable society where all communities have an opportunity to contribute to, and benefit from economic growth, ‘inclusive growth’ takes account of pre-existing individual and structural inequalities, the need to protect and promote human rights, and the pressing challenges presented by climate change. This approach capitalises on local, regional and national assets and resources, providing opportunities to refocus and reallocate resources to better meet needs and to improve efficiency.

The principles of equity and inclusion must be at the centre of the government’s recovery plans. In addition to the moral and ethical imperatives to protect, support and ensure equal opportunities for all, there are clear economic benefits to improving equality by enabling more people to participate in economic activity[1]. The pandemic has brought many entrenched and emerging inequalities in our society into stark relief[2]. Inequalities – such as poverty, lack of access to high quality public services, safe housing, and health and social care services – are systemic rather than individual issues. Despite legislation, policies and workplace mechanisms[3] designed to improve equality for all, many inequalities have either not improved or worsened over recent years. Life expectancy has remained static over the last decade and has declined for the women in the poorest 10% of areas[4]. Poverty has remained relatively consistent, and deep poverty has increased[5]. Structural and systemic inequalities are not just prevalent in our communities and between citizens, but also within our public services and political systems[6].

Investment in social infrastructure must be at the heart of any inclusive growth strategy that drives the government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda and post-covid-19 recovery efforts. The provision of social resources such as open spaces, sports facilities, healthcare, education and training, childcare centres, social care and youth services, are crucial to people leading healthier lives and participating meaningfully in society and the economy. Charities and community groups are a vital component of a healthy social infrastructure, by providing advice, services and support networks for marginalised communities.

The coronavirus crisis has had a severe impact on the country’s labour market, with the low paid and the young bearing the brunt of the impact[7]. As we emerge from the covid-19 pandemic and start to rebuild the economy, investing in employment and skills programmes that seek to address economic inequalities between communities will be paramount.

The UKSPF will be central to the delivery of the levelling up agenda by supporting the creation of the social infrastructure needed to tackle regional inequality and to improve the lives of people in deprived communities. By helping to create a fairer and more inclusive society where all communities have an opportunity to contribute to economic growth, an effectively designed UKSPF will help the UK fulfil its post-Brexit and post-covid potential.

The UKSPF should invest in services that support disadvantaged and hard-to-reach communities neglected by mainstream state provision. In doing so, it will help tackle the UK’s current skills gaps and productivity challenges and deliver a thriving labour market in line with the levelling up agenda. Importantly, communities will also be better positioned to generate local opportunities for themselves and withstand the impact of economic shocks by becoming more economically resilient.

A well-designed UKSPF would assist public authorities in fulfilling their obligations under the Public Sector Equality Duty of the Equality Act 2010. Additionally, the cross-cutting themes of equal opportunities and gender mainstreaming – which cover both ESF and ERDF – should also be carried forward and would further orientate the UKSPF around tackling inequality and ensuring the representation of marginalised communities[8].

To deliver against these objectives, the UKSPF should be led through partnerships that develop community-driven solutions and build social cohesion and opportunities for people on the margins of society. With much talk of the ‘national effort’ in recent months, there is an opportunity to put building social cohesion at the top of the agenda. It must also have the values of reducing regional inequality, supporting the growth of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) – which includes the majority of charities – and preserving and protecting the environment at its core.

This vision places the UKSPF at the heart of a long-term investment strategy, aimed at delivering significant long-term savings whilst helping to tackle some of the UK’s most entrenched social problems.