This week the Inclusive Growth Commission published their final findings and recommendation after an independent enquiry into how the UK can achieve inclusive growth. Design Council welcomes the findings, after having previously submitted evidence to the commission, identifying three key challenges to inclusive growth that design can address. This blog first sets out those three challenges, before elaborating on the intrinsic role that design can play in promoting inclusive growth.

 Something doesn’t feel quite right about living in a country in which more people have a smartphone than have a job. While the UK may have one of the most advanced economies in the world, it also has one of the most unequal. That’s why the work of the Inclusive Growth Commission is so important, to ensure as many people as possible are able to contribute to and benefit from economic success – both nationally and within their local communities. With the UK government developing a new Industrial Strategy, this is a particularly timely discussion too. In our evidence submission to the Commission, we identified three key challenges to inclusive growth in the UK: 

Still far too many people are working in low wage, low skill, and insecure jobs and if we don’t halt this trend soon, it will only further exacerbate existing inequalities, leaving many communities further behind.

1.Creating high wage, high value-add jobs across the country

A key challenge to inclusive growth is that of creating high wage, high value-add jobs across the country, not just in our major cities. We see this as challenge as being partly a result of bad design – how jobs are designed, how technology is exploited, workplaces are managed and where they are located. The UK is about to enter its tenth-year of stagnant productivity levels, meaning we’re all working harder than we were before the recession, to produce less. This matters because productivity is a fundamental driver of wage increases and as such as a key determinant of living standards in communities across the country. Still far too many people are working in low wage, low skill, and insecure jobs and if we don’t halt this trend soon, it will only further exacerbate existing inequalities, leaving many communities further behind. 

2.Designing resilient, inclusive places

We also need to ensure as many people as possible are able to fully participate in activities within their local neighbourhood, town, city and region. Decisions about the planning, design, build and management of places can affect the enjoyment of them and independence within a space, ease of mobility, feelings of safety and a sense of belonging. Evidence from the US suggests that attachment to an area can impact on its local economic activity in that it “makes people more willing to invest and spend in that area, and separately influences their perception of the local economy”. Although accessibility has improved over the last decade, the fact remains that social, cultural and economic inequalities are still being built into many new places across the country.

3.Creating governance systems fit for the modern era

Finally, there’s the small matter of creating policymaking and governance systems fit for the 21st century – our experience at Design Council is that many public services start with interventions they already have at their disposal, meaning that often the problems they seek to solve are shaped by the solutions they have already developed, not the other way round. This is as true for local governments as it is for central, and we believe that this is a key barrier to affecting system and culture transformation in public services.

One key solution to this challenge will be supporting local economies across the country to be more innovative, including improving the use of design to raise productivity and wages.

New questions, new solutions

Surmounting these challenges will not be easy, and will require new methods and new thinking. Strengthening the competitiveness and vibrancy of local and UK-wide businesses has become even more important following the decision to withdraw from the EU. The introduction of devolved responsibilities, giving local authorities the ability to capture the value of business rates, further enhances the connection between local public services and the success of the local economy. One key solution to this challenge will be supporting local economies across the country to be more innovative, including improving the use of design to raise productivity and wages, stimulate a more entrepreneurial culture across all parts of the UK and develop the skills and thinking need for the future, not the past.

More could be done to maximise the social, environmental and economic value of building developments by strategically linking them to complementary policy agendas, for instance by promoting healthy lifestyles through a carefully designed neighbourhood

The success of local economies is also interdependent on the success of the places in which people live and work. More could be done to maximise the social, environmental and economic value of building developments by strategically linking them to complementary policy agendas, for instance by promoting healthy lifestyles through a carefully designed neighbourhood, resulting in savings to the public health budget through expenditure on the built environment.

Yet none of this will be possible without changes to governance systems and structures. In addition to ensuring public services are delivered effectively, several organisations including Design Council have started looking in to how the policy making process itself could be more innovative. A key emphasis on our work at Design Council involves supporting public services to reframe challenges by gaining a better understanding of the problem and pose new questions to inspire new solutions. In recent years a growing number of public services have adopted such design methods as they attempt to tackle intractable problems, in which ambiguity and complexity requisite the use of more creative approaches. This approach has gained considerable traction in policy circles over recent years, though there has been an acknowledgement that in addition to saying policymakers should be more strategic and use design more, they require training and coaching to enable them to do use this approach sustainability.

For truly inclusive growth, unlocking the true potential of innovation is essential, as is responding at pace and ensuring the talent and knowledge within our communities is fully utilised and appreciated.

Designing for inclusive growth

For truly inclusive growth, unlocking the true potential of innovation is essential, as is responding at pace and ensuring the talent and knowledge within our communities is fully utilised and appreciated. We believe that better and more strategic planning and execution of policies can have significant impacts in terms of mitigating financial risks, and this approach could have added value in places beyond the major metropolitan areas where the margins for error are slimmer.

We welcome the recommendations from the Inclusive Growth Commission, and as the government develops a new Industrial Strategy, encourage policymakers at both a national and local level to think strategically about how existing resources and policies could be better aligned to promote inclusive growth. Design Council is committed to supporting this work through supporting design-led innovation across the economy, transforming public services and designing more inclusive places.

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