COVID-19: Local exposure to the crisis

By George Harrington | April 7, 2020

Whether economic, political, or social, the shocks and subsequent impacts of a crisis are never uniformly felt across economies. The real impact of a crisis reflects the composition of local economies and communities. De-industrialization, the recession of the early 90's, the 2008 financial crises and the ensuing austerity agenda all affected different places in different ways. While the news headlines focus on national issues, we need to remember that economic shocks have local consequences and that the solutions needed for recovery will be different too.

As the enormity of the economic challenges presented by COVID-19 grow, there has been no shortage of news reports and think pieces devoted to the global economic ramifications. BBC News has neatly pulled together a visual guide to the economic impact, whilst others such as Imperial College and The Guardian have sought to understand the wider impact of Coronavirus on business and the economy. But there has been less focus of how its socio-economic effects might be felt locally across the country.

With this in mind, we have developed an Interactive Dashboard that tries to identify exposure to the socio-economic effects of the Coronavirus pandemic across England’s 343 local authorities. It draws on a range of economic, social, and health indicators. Our aim is to stimulate discussion and provide a snapshot of individual local authorities to help decision makers identify where the virus might have the greatest impact on our economy. The tool is free to use and available here.

As policymakers rightly respond to the immediate health challenges presented by COVID-19, we need to prepare for what lies ahead. This tool has been designed to help support that process. This very much is the start of a conversation and we would love to hear your ideas for how we could make the tool more relevant and useful.

  1. Susceptibility to economic impacts are more pronounced in urban locations – as centers of culture, hospitality, and retail, cities are unsurprisingly disproportionately affected by the crisis. This is particularly the case in Inner London, with boroughs’ such as Kensington and Chelsea showing as much as 45 percent of people in jobs unable to trade as a result of the Coronavirus.
  2. Areas surrounding airports have acute levels of employment exposure – the local authorities that are home to England’s largest five airports are rated as ‘most exposed’ in jobs terms. The disruption to the UK’s two largest airports is having a dramatic local impact: half of Crawley’s (Gatwick Airport) and 38 percent of Hillingdon’s (Heathrow Airport) employment is in sectors most directly impacted by Coronavirus.
  3. Areas with a larger base of SMEs are highly exposed – coastal locations where there is a greater prevalence of small hospitality and visitor economy businesses are particularly at risk. These locations also have too few higher paying, more secure jobs to counter-balance the local impact on the low paid in precarious employment.
  4. Rural areas face physical and digital isolation – residents in more remote places are more likely to lack the digital skills needed to access support online, and struggle to get a reliably good internet connection needed to work effectively from home. Physical isolation may mean lower rates of COVID infection, but remoteness from essential services such as health and food shopping are not easily bridged by digital connectivity in rural areas.

There are undoubtedly many more messages and insights in the data. We know the dashboard does not capture the actual spread of the virus and nor does it fully reflect all the sectors that will be heavily impacted. It also does not reflect the wider supply-chain and labor market effects that will shape recovery. And, nor have we begun to look at fiscal impacts on local government. There are also positive effects that have emerged for some sectors such as food retailers, delivery companies, and online health-fitness related businesses, which are not considered here.

It would be great to hear what you think of what we have done so far and what this may mean for your area. Over the course of the coming weeks and months, we will be reflecting more on the pandemic and what it means for economies, places and communities.