Brexit and rural social entrepreneurship in the UK

Artur Steiner*, K Stephen, Sarah Anne Munoz

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

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    The European population is ageing: among European Union (EU) nations, including the United Kingdom and Scotland, the proportion of those aged 65 and over increased from 15.8 per cent in 2001 to 19.7 per cent in 2018. This figure is expected to grow to 29.5 per cent in 2050. Due to outmigration of young people who seek education and employment opportunities in cities and in-migration of retirees looking for a peaceful life in rural villages and towns, rural areas are characterised by an even higher proportion of older citizens. For instance, in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, one of the most sparsely populated areas in the EU, 22.5 per cent of the local population were aged 65 and over in 2018, exceeding the UK national average by 4.3 per cent (Eurostat, 2019).

    In addition to the challenging socio-demographic context of Europe’s ageing population, in recent years the continent has faced economic crisis, a prolonged period of economic recovery, austerity and public spending cuts (Markantoni et al., 2018). More recently, the global pandemic of Covid-19 has created new challenges that are experienced internationally (Phillipson et al., 2020). Although these events affect both rural and urban areas across different nations, rural areas are likely to suffer more. Small and widely dispersed populations result in high per capita costs for public service provision which, in many cases, leads to the closure of economically unviable services (Steiner et al., 2019). For instance, in the last two decades many healthcare services – particularity important to older people – have been moved to larger regional centres, leaving rural residents with no, or limited, health and care support (Farmer and Nimegeer, 2014).

    The socio-economic and health challenges experienced internationally require a united response to mitigate the negative consequences of specific moments of crisis. In Europe, the EU frequently acts as a body that supports collaboration between different nations to work and learn from each other, facilitate local development and build community resilience (McAreavey, 2009). Some of the EU-funding streams, such as LEADER or NPP/NPA, act as a catalyst for rural social change, entrepreneurship and innovation (Muñoz et al., 2015).

    In this paper, we reflect on our experiences of running an EU-funded project called Older People for Older People (O4O). In four rural areas of the Scottish Highlands and Islands, O4O harnessed the energies of older people to set up community social enterprises and address service needs experienced by other, more vulnerable, older people. As such, through socially entrepreneurial solutions, the project aimed to overcome some of the challenges associated with an ageing population and diminishing rural service provision.

    Considering the recent decision of the British population to leave the European Union as well as lessons learnt from the O4O project, the aim of the paper is to discuss potential consequences of Brexit on rural social entrepreneurship. Our discussion is supported by qualitative and quantitative evidence deriving from a four-year project and relevant O4O literature. In our conclusions, we debate the future of rural social entrepreneurship in the UK outside the EU.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationRural Governance in the UK: Towards a Sustainable and Equitable Society
    ISBN (Electronic)9781003200208
    ISBN (Print)London
    Publication statusFirst published - 18 Oct 2022


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