The government appears to have a new policy. It hasn’t given it a name, so let’s help it out and call it “Unlevelling Down”.
Last week, the government published the method used for allocating its £4.8bn “levelling up” fund – the one that benefits Richmond (north Yorkshire) and Newark (Notts), the relatively wealthy constituencies of the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, and Robert Jenrick, the communities minister respectively – but not Barnsley or Salford, which are among the most deprived parts of the country but that, unfortunately, did not elect a Tory MP.
The algorithm used to calculate who gets what jettisoned the index of multiple deprivation that is usually used in such cases. Instead, it favoured areas of low productivity and long commutes, by coincidence metrics more likely to pick out Tory constituencies. For much the same reason, 40 out of 45 areas allocated money from the separate £3.6bn towns fund also have a Tory MP.
Then there’s the change in the way funding for disadvantaged school children is calculated. The pupil premium normally depends upon numbers in each school in January who are receiving free school meals. But, as part of its Unlevelling Down policy, the government changed the calculation to take account of numbers in October rather than January, so denying money for pupils who became eligible over the winter. For many schools, that means a sharp decrease in funding.
Other aspects of Unlevelling Down include the chancellor’s decision not to raise statutory sick pay from its derisory £95.85 a week, even in the midst of a pandemic, and not to make the £20 universal credit uplift permanent.
The government seems reluctant to make much of its Unlevelling Down policy. Why be so reticent about a policy that jettisons the most needy in favour of those who might vote for you?
• Kenan Malik is an Observer columnist