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Making the UK fairer: Where we live

Closing the opportunity gap between the UK's cities, towns and regions

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Where people live has a big impact on their view of fairness in UK society, transcending factors such as income and race. Our research shows that 'levelling up' the UK will take more than just increased spending.

Across towns, cities and rural areas, the public told us the 'liveability' of their place is almost as important as jobs and income. People want to feel safe and welcome. They want attractive town centres, open green spaces and community facilities – and they want more say over how decisions are made in their local area.

As the political focus shifts to the UK's left behind places, we have used our research to set out how the Government and its partners can close the country's opportunity gap.

Why place matters

Over the course of 2018/19, PwC has been thinking about the relationship between fairness, policy-making and public services. As part of our Future of Government programme, we commissioned a major national survey asking the question: How can the Government transform to create a fairer future for the UK?

Where we live builds on these themes, providing further insight on the new geography of disparity across the UK. If success is to be judged by improvements to the way people feel about where they live, we believe there are three factors that need to be considered:


How people feel about the place they live – the liveability of their place – has a significant impact on whether they consider society to be fair. In particular, we found that inclusive and healthy local areas are seen by the public as an important aspect of fairness. Improvements to communal spaces, the cultural offer and cohesion of local communities, as well as addressing issues such as the social determinants of health, could play a critical role in improving the experience people have of the place they live.

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Successive governments have sought to deliver on the devolution agenda, but people still consider the state, national and local, to be remote and unresponsive. For devolution to make a meaningful contribution to making the country fairer, the government needs to consider how it will give more power to towns and rural areas as well as how devolution could create a better sense of local connection and ownership among citizens.

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Policymakers should reflect on why society feels unfair to a significant proportion of the population. Our research suggests many people who think society is unfair feel they are not being listened to. And yet it is clear many have a strong appetite to engage in the decisions that affect them: almost half (48%) of respondents to our survey want to get involved in decisions about their local place. If the government wants to see real change in what people see and feel is to be delivered, a new approach to public engagement is needed.

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Five tests of fairness to close the opportunity gap

We set out how our five tests of fairness could be applied to close the opportunity gap.

Prioritise the vulnerable and those in greatest need

Our research highlights the importance for UK citizens of a long-established principle: that a fair society is one which helps those in greatest need.

At a national level, there is an opportunity to reappraise public spending funding models and formulas to better meet the needs of those who are ‘left behind’.

At the local level, councils and their partners are increasingly focused on inclusive growth, pursuing local economic strategies that everyone can access and benefit from, targeting those who are economically and socially disconnected.

Help people earn a decent living and prepare for the future world of work

Though people’s perceptions of fairness are important, our Good Growth research highlights that jobs, income and skills are a priority for the public too.

While skills programmes are typically driven at a national level, there is an opportunity for local leaders to work with businesses to invest in upskilling and play a brokering role – matching people to employment and learning opportunities.

Close the opportunity gap that exists between places

Tackling disparities in fairness between different places by levelling up investment will only partly close the opportunity gap. What needs to run alongside this is a more deliberate focus on the redistribution of power across the country, paying particular attention to the requirements of towns and rural areas and the importance of engagement and liveability.

When it comes to measuring its progress, the government should look beyond ‘traditional’ measures, such as GVA, and opt for a more balanced basket of measures, such as the one we used in the Demos-PwC Good Growth Index.

Give individuals more control over the services they access

Government and its partners must capitalise on the public’s appetite to engage in decision making, and take advantage of the supporting role technology can play. Our research found that almost half (48%) of respondents said they would like to get involved in decisions about their area, with younger people particularly keen to take part (66% of 16-24 year olds compared to 31% of 65+).

Using technology to engage with the public could renew the relationship between the state and its people, creating the opportunities for individuals to have a greater say in their own futures and become more self-sufficient.

Empower communities to shape the places in which they live

Consideration should be given to the role the state can play in connecting individuals and communities, giving them authority to make decisions on things that will impact them.

By using technology to enable the creation of community groups, the government could develop peer-to-peer support networks, connect people with particular needs with those who may be willing to volunteer, or simply underpin the informal networks and local knowledge that are important in any community.

“Everyone wants to live in a place that they’re proud of, be part of a community they feel connected to, and feel that their voice is heard. We need to find new ways to bring people together and create liveable places where everyone has the opportunity to thrive.”

Quentin ColeLeader of Industry for Government and Health Industries, PwC UK

Who is responsible for closing the opportunity gap between places?

Making the UK a fairer place to live is a major challenge – and the Government will not be able to tackle it alone. In this report, we set out recommendations for local public service leaders, business, community groups and national government to help close the UK’s opportunity gap.

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