The UK is focused on reopening the economy – a colossal challenge for even the most fiscally sophisticated, and particularly acute where investment and societal inequalities are prevalent.
Take, for example, the South West, where I research and educate. Like other peripheral economies, it deals with long-term, deep-rooted low productivity, which is soon to be exacerbated by the funding deficit for regional development and economic growth as a consequence of Brexit.
Productivity gaps here continue to widen against the UK average and you only have to scratch the surface to reveal an even poorer picture in coastal and rural locations. In fact, productivity is inextricably linked to the rural and outlying nature of the peninsula, which makes accessing markets a challenge for business and accessing services a challenge for residents, particularly the sizeable elderly population.
As highlighted in Public Health England’s report on rural and coastal communities (August 2019), low productivity and social exclusion go hand-in-hand. Access to health services and a lack of transport to these services were a main driver of social exclusion.
This intrinsic link between health inequality and economic productivity is key to understanding how we should re-open the economy and what the ‘new normal’ could – and should – look like. With the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen how the economy suffers when our populations’ health is at risk. This is where the policy focus on the ‘The Economy of Wellbeing’ is crucial.
The effects of the COVID-19 health crisis will stay much longer than the disease itself.
A health crisis such as this is bound to exacerbate the pressures on the national health and care systems due to pent-up demand once all services return to business as usual. There are many negatives that come with this, but it does provide the UK industry with a potential growth market. Over the last three months, we have seen the rapid introduction of digital and eHealth solutions into our health and care services.
The highly regulated health and care market is tough for small and medium businesses to navigate and succeed in. Up until now, this is where the EU has come into play. However, investments in health technology innovations were often met with a nervousness or reticence in non-peripheral communities and, therefore, were often difficult to realise on a wider scale.
COVID-19 is a game-changer.
The health sector is experiencing a behavioural shift towards acceptance of such innovative products and services that would have previously taken decades, and now this is where the resilience of a peripheral economy, like the South West, really takes hold.
Our older population, coupled with an SME-led explosion of innovation, presents a unique economic opportunity in the ideal test bed for future health and care interventions that can be scaled to a national and international level. This is perfect for organisations who choose to embed the South West lifestyle into their business model.
In embracing the shift towards ‘The Economy of Wellbeing’ and focusing domestic investment towards an integrated, digitally-enabled health and social care ecosystem, business can focus on supporting health and care provision across dispersed communities. The peripheral economy becomes the blueprint for the UK's economic recovery.