Places in Britain with high rates of homelessness rates are not receiving enough levelling up funding, a think tank has warned, in a report that says too much funding is going towards physical infrastructure and too little towards tackling social issues.
Areas with the highest rates of homelessness have received less of the government funding on average than places with less homelessness, despite this being a key priority for the public, the NPC found. Some areas with high levels of homelessness have received no levelling up funding at all.
NPC, a think tank and consultancy for the charity sector, also found that areas with higher-than-average crime rates are not necessarily getting more funding than other areas.
While funding has largely gone to areas with high levels of deprivation and crime, some of the most deprived local authorities in Britain have had no levelling up funding at all.
“The funding is currently biased towards hard infrastructure, buildings, and economic growth. These are clearly important to many, but a focus on just these areas and metrics neglects the social infrastructure which is key to improving places,” this week’s report said. This approach also “leads to overlooking people who live in urban areas, which score well on economic metrics, but poorly on social metrics”, it added.
The think tank also found inconsistencies between how the fund was distributed in England, Scotland and Wales, as well as concerns over a lack of funding in areas with high concentrations of Black, African and Caribbean communities.
The 10% of local authorities with the highest concentrations of Black, African and Caribbean communities have so far received less levelling up funding than the 10% with the lowest concentrations of these communities.
Reducing homelessness was one of the top priorities revealed in a survey of 2,000 people by NPC last year, with 36% of respondents listing it as one of the top three issues they wanted levelling up funding to address. Poverty (36%), crime (34%), and unemployment (32%) also ranked highly.
The think tank’s latest report looked into how money from the £8.7bn levelling up fund (£5bn has been allocated so far) – intended to further the government’s pledge to “level up opportunities” around the UK – is being spent compared to these priorities.
The report said that while the public expects levelling up to tackle social issues – as illustrated by its poll – the majority is going on hard infrastructure, high streets, and buildings.
As little as 2% of the levelling up funding allocated so far has been spent on social infrastructure and services that tackle homelessness, poverty, and crime.
Wales and Scotland have so far received less levelling up funding per person than England, according to NPC, with Scotland only receiving 3.5% of all funding the think tank analysed despite having 8.2% of the population.
Wales received 2.5% of Levelling Up funding despite having 4.7% of the population.
Both Wales and Scotland were not eligible to apply for the Towns Fund and the Future High Streets Fund, with £3.18bn of these funding pots going to authorities England so far.
NPC said it expects Wales and Scotland will receive more funding in the future.
The report also found disparities in the way funding was being distributed within the three nations. While there was a strong correlation between high crime and high funding in Scotland, the correlation was smaller in England – while in Wales, more money went to areas with lower crime levels.
And while the report found the most deprived areas in England received more levelling up funding on average, this was not the case in Scotland and Wales.
The most deprived 20% of local authorities in England have so far received 39% of the country’s levelling up funding.
But, in Wales, the most deprived 20% of local authorities received less funding (17%) than the least deprived (18%), and, in Scotland, the highest proportion of funding went to areas with average levels of deprivation.
In all three countries, some of the most deprived areas received no funding at all.
Meanwhile, several wealthy areas with few social issues are receiving large amounts of levelling up funding, the report said.
The relatively wealthy Isles of Scilly received £48.5m for a new ferry service, but NPC said, for others like Lewes, “the substantial funding is harder to explain”.
“Misunderstands the process”
The report set out a series of recommendations for the government, including providing funding for social infrastructure that cuts crime and homelessness and setting up a national levelling up intelligence board.
Areas which are prioritised for funding should produce a local roadmap, setting out how they will use the funding to “level up” the area socially and economically, the think tank said.
The intelligence board would have representation from charities of all sizes, businesses, faith groups and community groups, and provide input to the government on the levelling up agenda.
A spokesperson for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said: "This report misunderstands the process for distributing levelling up funding.
“These funds will ensure opportunity is spread more equally across the UK by investing in infrastructure and regeneration projects that will improve everyday life, boost livelihoods and drive economic growth across the country.”
They added that tackling homelessness is a government priority backed by a separate funding pot of £2bn in England over the next three years plus £800m this year.