This article develops a foundational economy contribution to debate about regional inequalities by presenting new calculations of household income after the costs of three essential items (housing, transport and utilities). These residual income measures illustrate the diversity of living standards within and between English and Welsh regions. The analysis shows a mosaic of variation in residual income and wealth accumulation driven by the variability of housing costs in four different tenure groups (outright owners, mortgage payers, private renters, social renters). The article argues that GVA averages and descriptors like ‘left behind’ are a poor guide to differences within and between regions; they also misdirect policy towards ‘levelling up’ the apparently unsuccessful places without directly addressing the quality of and access to essential services. From a foundational point of view, regional policy needs to focus on access to housing at reasonable cost for all income and tenure groups in every region.