The APPG for 'left behind' neighbourhoods was active between June 2020 and March 2024. This website will no longer be updated.


Following the 2019 general election which signalled the arrival of the levelling up agenda, the Levelling Up White Paper represented a welcome acknowledgement by the government of the specific and strategic need to address place-based inequalities. With work underway to develop policies and funding programmes that will make a meaningful difference for those parts of the country experiencing worse outcomes than elsewhere, the stage is set for a major debate on how best to tackle these inequalities in the next general election.

To support its levelling up agenda, the government has launched a series of funding schemes to invest in the development of local infrastructure, boost community ownership of local assets, promote town centre regeneration, and drive investment in deprived places. It has also set out four main objectives for levelling up:

  • Boosting productivity, pay, jobs and living standards
  • Spreading opportunities and improving public services
  • Restoring a sense of community, local pride and belonging
  • Empowering local leaders and

Despite these efforts, governments have to date struggled to make much of a tangible difference in what we believe are the most ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods, or to the lives of people that live there.

Economic turbulence now threatens to reverse the progress that has been made towards building the political will to ‘level up’ ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods. In the meantime, it is in these neighbourhoods that the rocketing cost of living has been felt most keenly. Indeed, research by Oxford Consultants for Social Inclusion (OCSI) for the APPG found that people living in ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods have seen a sharper rise in fuel poverty since 2011 than people living in other deprived areas and across England as a whole (2022a). These places are also at higher risk from financial hardship and food insecurity than other deprived areas, according to the British Red Cross’s assessment criteria for vulnerability to rising costs (OCSI, 2022a).

In 2022 the APPG began a major inquiry into the government’s levelling up agenda. The inquiry aimed to assess how closely the ambitious policy programme set out in the White Paper aligns with the needs and aspirations of the 2.4 million people living in 225 ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods across England: places which experience significant socioeconomic deprivation as well as a critical lack of local social infrastructure and community engagement.

This report argues that we have arrived at a crucial, decisive moment for the future of ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods. Decisions made in the next few years will define the prospects of ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods for decades to come:

Worst-case scenario: Falling further behind

Base-case scenario: Stalled progress

Best-case scenario: Transformation

As the APPG’s inquiry heard repeatedly in evidence sessions and written submissions, the current model of levelling up is not well-tailored to the needs of ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods. Yet it still remains possible to adapt policy and funding programmes to reduce the gap between places that are ‘left behind’ and those which have benefitted immensely from the decisions, innovations, and economic trends of the last few decades. Decisive action is now urgently needed to save the levelling up agenda from the strategic drift which threatens to waste the significant political will which has been generated in recent years to transform the fortunes of ‘left behind’ places.

So far, the government’s approach has not sufficiently recognised the scale of the challenge in ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods. Nor has it acknowledged the innovative and community-led approaches our inquiry has found are most likely to make a difference in these places. In fact, the design of levelling up policies and funding pots risks overlooking the specific needs of ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods, and could even produce worse outcomes in the very places levelling up is supposed to help. This is why the ideas and decisions we develop and make over the next few years may decide the future trajectory of ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods for decades to come.

‘Left behind’ neighbourhoods and the people who live in them face multiple challenges and inequalities that limit their opportunities and potential compared to other places:

  • ‘Left behind’ neighbourhoods have worse outcomes than the English average – as well as other, equally deprived areas – across a variety of socioeconomic indicators
  • ‘Left behind’ neighbourhoods have lower levels of social capital, trust and civic participation
  • ‘Left behind’ neighbourhoods have been hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic and social consequences
  • A combination of high levels of indebtedness, financial insecurity and fuel poverty means ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods are particularly vulnerable to the current cost of living crisis.

The experiences of residents of ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods offer an insight into the reality of place-based multiple disadvantage. But they also showcase the existing assets and tools within these communities that can help drive neighbourhood improvements.

Unleashing the potential of ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods will require:

  • A more community-focussed, people- centric and locally-minded approach to devolution within England that invests as much in building community capacity and social infrastructure as it does in physical regeneration schemes
  • Significant changes to how we reach funding and policy decisions
  • A cultural shift in how various levels of government and the voluntary and community sector work with ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods to improve local conditions.

Above all, policy programmes to transform ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods must start from where these places, and the people who live in them, are now, harnessing local strengths and measuring progress according to local needs and priorities. This means moving decisively away from the culture of centralised control from Westminster and Whitehall, which has held back efforts to address the country’s stark place-based inequalities for decades. It will require a new emphasis on building capacity within communities to ensure they have a seat at the table and the ability to take a lead in making decisions over what happens in their local area.

“The community knows what it needs. And I think at all levels of local and national government, one of the big things that needs to be embedded is actually trust in local people.”

Anna Bradley-Dorman, Ramsey Million Big Local, oral evidence to inquiry session two

Throughout our inquiry, we heard many examples of community resilience and resourcefulness. ‘Left behind’ places are reservoirs of untapped talent and potential, and a policy approach designed to play to their strengths and harness their resourcefulness will not only deliver better opportunities within ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods, but also contribute to faster economic growth and development across wider society.

“If you take the approach of involving young people, you’ll find they are willing to put thousands of hours in of their own time to volunteer in their community. If you give young people a small sense of responsibility, they will take it and run with it.”

Billy Robinson, Ewanrigg Local Trust, oral evidence to inquiry session one

The perspectives of people living and working to improve ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods reinforce this enormous potential, and highlight a deliverable framework for success: a pathway for harnessing hyper-local and community- led action to genuinely tackle inequalities between places in England.

With the right policy and funding support to enable community development, mobilisation, facilitation, and self- governance, we could significantly transform the prospects of ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods.

Our calls to action

In our publications, research and analysis, the All-Party Parliamentary Group for ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods has called for more devolution of power and resources to local communities, as well as targeted investment in ‘left behind’ areas, to help them catch up with the rest of the country.

This would give ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods more control over their own destinies and enable them to develop and implement their own solutions to the challenges they face.

We have also identified the need for a more coordinated and holistic approach to tackling issues in ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods to address the interconnected challenges they face. This includes improving education and skills provision, boosting employment opportunities, enhancing access to health and social care, and improving housing quality. To achieve this, we are calling for greater collaboration between different levels of government and different policy areas, as well as far greater engagement with local communities to ensure that local voices are heard, and their needs met.

Our inquiry into levelling up

Published in February 2022, the Levelling up the United Kingdom White Paper sets out the government’s plan to spread opportunity more equally across the United Kingdom. The APPG began its inquiry to investigate the extent to which the ambitious policy programme set out within the White Paper aligns with the needs and aspirations of residents in ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods across England.

Four inquiry sessions – each live- streamed to the APPG’s external members – were held in Parliament. Over twenty expert witnesses provided evidence, including representatives from think tanks, city-regional government, civil society and academia, as well as residents of ‘left behind’ and other disadvantaged neighbourhoods.

Each session was loosely organised around the White Paper’s thematic focus areas and missions:

  • Social outcomes (April 2022)
  • Economic outcomes (July 2022)
  • Communities (November 2022)
  • Investment (January 2023)

This report

This report is the final output from the APPG’s inquiry into levelling up.

It draws on the wealth of written and oral evidence we received and the discussions that emerged from the four evidence sessions, supplemented by further research, including:

  • A two-day St George’s House consultation at Windsor Castle, brining MPs and policy professionals into discussion with community leaders from ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods
  • An in-person workshop to engage with policy researchers and thinkers specialising in localism and place-based inequality
  • A further remote workshop to engage with representatives from Big Local groups and local authorities operating in ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods.

These later sessions have shaped the content and ideas that are presented here in important ways. We do not include direct quotes as the discussions were all conducted under the Chatham House Rule.

This report builds on the APPG’s existing evidence base to examine the government’s levelling up policies and their impact on ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods. It aims to inform and advise government at all levels, to identify best practice for regeneration that puts communities themselves in the driving seat, and to make the case for a re-imagined levelling up agenda and policy programme that puts the interests of ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods at its heart.

It includes:

  • An overview of what we have learned about the nature of ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods – and their potential if they are finally adequately supported
  • An analysis of the challenges and barriers to regeneration in ‘left behind’ places, drawing on both the hard data and the lived experience of local residents
  • A set of policy principles to provide an underpinning framework for future regeneration policy or other programmes designed to improve conditions and life opportunities in ‘left behind’ areas
  • Policy recommendations, to respond to the challenges and deliver on the principles identified previously, across both central and local government, and community organisations.

It is crucial to prioritise and elevate community voices in any discussion of deprived or ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods. People who live in ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods and other disadvantaged communities, and who are involved in community-led efforts to transform their local areas, have been a key part of our inquiry process. Residents, community workers and volunteers have the lived experience and understanding of the strengths, challenges, and nuances that statistics and outsider policy perspectives may miss. By foregrounding their priorities we hope to ensure that the policies discussed here resonate with the actual needs and aspirations of their communities. We hope it will also help to foster a sense of ownership of and engagement with the report’s proposals amongst community leaders, activists and volunteers in ‘left behind’ places.

“Ultimately we do have a view of how we want to live. And actually it’s pretty much the same as everybody else on the planet. A nice home, safe, attractive and green neighbourhood, good neighbours and enough money not to have to worry all the time.”

Billy Dasein, East Marsh United, oral evidence to inquiry session four

The prize: a future of community and national renewal

‘Left behind’ neighbourhoods can be home to innovative and transformative community projects, capable of making an enormous difference within the most challenging of environments. This report shares the perspectives of some of the people and community groups that are making this difference, and the context that made success possible.

This community-powered potential – which nobody taking part in the inquiry’s evidence sessions could doubt – points to significant wider benefits if ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods are supported to thrive. These benefits could extend far beyond the boundaries of ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods themselves, with a welcome spillover effect that strengthens our national social and economic fabric; building resilience, reducing demand on public services, and helping to support the achievement of the government’s wider political agenda.

Neighbourhood-scale and community-led strategies to ‘level up’ could represent a genuine route to national renewal if the civil society sector and every tier of government enable and facilitate them.