Archbishop calls for 'immediate action' on levelling up

(Photo: Unsplash/Adrien Delforge)

Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell has called for "immediate action" on the UK Government's aim of "levelling up" the country.

The second-most senior cleric in the Church of England said: "Our Government has made levelling up one of its key objectives. However, we need immediate action, not just a long-term aspiration. We need to invest in those areas where choices are few."

Writing in the Christmas edition of the Radio Times magazine, Archbishop Cottrell explains: "The story of Christmas is the story of God born among the poor, alongside those who have no choice. To be true to Christmas we must all strive to level up our society and give everyone the choices only some enjoy."

He contrasts the wide range of choices that today's TV viewers have, against those available to him as a child. Today "there's such a bewildering deluge of choice that many of us hop from channel to channel", he said.

But he points out that these alternatives are not available to "a homeless person curled up in the doorway of a shop; or an almost-homeless family surfing from sofa to sofa or crammed into inadequate rented accommodation.

"Or those on zero hours contracts; or those suffering because the £20 rise in universal credit has been taken away and they can't afford the TV licence, let alone a Netflix subscription. Or those people who will be working at Christmas and on whom we depend, but they earn so little they only just keep their heads above the waterline."

Choice, Archbishop Cottrell maintains, is "the gift of wealth; lack of choice is the scourge of poverty."

He contrasts the "healthy" life expectancy of a boy born in Blackpool as 53 years, and in Richmond, south-west London, as 71 – a gap of 18 years. Ten years ago, he says, the gap was 13 years.

"Poor health and low life expectancy are the consequences of low or no income, poor housing, lack of opportunity and inadequate education," he said. 

But the Archbishop applauds the work of people seeking to improve life for those with few choices in deprived areas.

"Let me be clear, teachers, social workers, clergy and many others are doing an amazing job of work in these areas, and without them things would be even worse," he said. 

The Archbishop concludes: "As a Christian, I believe following Jesus will be the best choice we can make this Christmas. But whatever choice you make, let us all remember those who have little or no choice in Britain today."