THE white economy is an emerging and evolving term used to define the approach to leverage the challenges of an ageing population into economic and social opportunities whilst meeting the needs of an older population. Population ageing is an unprecedented, global scenario. For several decades, governments all over the world have been grappling with how to manage the fiscal implications of supporting more older people from a diminishing revenue base.
Like population ageing, the COVID-19 virus is an unprecedented scenario on a global scale. The difference is that rather than unfolding gradually over time, falsely allowing policy makers to believe they have time on their side, the global pandemic is fast and furious and needs an immediate response across multiple facets.
In Tasmania, the threat of the COVID-19 virus has instigated an impressive, tactical response; a call to arms to flatten the curve and build the health sector capacity to manage the inevitable spread of the disease into the community. However, this response comes from a very low base; an underfunded and under-resourced health system which failed to invest in, and cater for, the changing health and care needs of an increasingly older population with relatively poorer socio-demographic backgrounds. Most governmental responses to population ageing have been to grow the economy with a focus on population growth to increase the revenue base as a counter to the fiscal challenges. However, this approach largely ignores the fact that the number of people getting older still increases. More than one in five Tasmanians are aged over 65, and while migration has temporarily slowed the rate of ageing over the past couple of years, the likelihood of migration to Tasmania in the short to medium-term is slight.
As a result, our population will age rapidly.
Unlike the silver economy — another term used to describe the opportunities associated with an older population, but focused on the changing consumption patterns of older generations, active ageing through increased recreation and leisure, travel and tourism, as well as property, finance and insurance services — the white economy encompasses a new collective for economic growth based on the increasing demand for aged-focused needs; an ecosystem of products and services for older people.
More specifically, the white economy refers to “products, services and activities related to healthcare and care including the dependent, disabled and elderly”.
These products, services and activities include meeting the existential needs of older people, older consumers, older employees and the needs of employers and organisations providing and servicing older people’s needs.
White economy initiatives include investing in health care and its workforce, including doctors, nurses and other health care specialists, to adapt to the needs of an ageing population, alongside new technologies and types of services, which is fundamentally different to what is understood to be mainstream healthcare.
The increasing demand for health care services resulting from ageing may include shifting the focus of health care from prevention and curing to one that emphasises management of symptoms and the variability of symptoms.
Of critical importance, however, is that the white economy extends beyond just the provision of services, to transport and logistics, research and development and the expansion of such initiatives such as telemedicine, remote monitoring and rehabilitation, as well as career upskilling.
As already seen in the tactical response to COVID-19, there has been substantial investment in the capacity of the health sector in Tasmania, including statewide and regional response units, large-scale acquisition of equipment and recruitment of staff.
We have also seen the rapid response of businesses to address new product demands and supply constraints; hand sanitiser being produced by gin distilleries, point-of-contact clear protection screens manufactured by a sail-maker and marine trimming company; and ventilators being fabricated using 3D printing technology by a former automobile parts manufacturer. These are all examples of initiatives within a white economy framework.
As the immediate threat of COVID-19 to the Tasmanian community becomes more known than unknown, the tactical response to increasing the capacity of our health care sector needs to transition to a strategic, longer-term response.
Tasmania’s population will age rapidly with a reduction in migration to the state, and will be dispersed around the state.
The opportunity for economic recovery and meeting the needs of our population rests with the white economy in the short, medium and long-term.
Tasmania already has a long history of health innovation from which the white economy can be built.
The humidicrib was invented in Tasmania, as were elevatable hospital beds and baths. Mader International already manufactures specialised transport equipment in the North-West, including ambulances, 4x4 patient transport, as well as medical and rescue equipment and ambulance consultancy services.
E-health technological services are also emerging.
Increasing the capacity of our health sector over the longer-term; investing, identifying, prioritising and streamlining services around the state, as well as providing logistics and transport services, will provide much needed economic stimulus over the years to come. So too will incentivising research and development for product and service innovation in the white economy as Tasmania recovers from the unprecedented, global scenario of COVID-19 and provides for the ongoing unprecedented, global scenario of population ageing.
As the visitor economy is to the tourism sector, the white economy is to the healthcare and social assistance industry, and the longer-term viability of our state and our lifestyle.