Support bubbles transformed into Social Assets: for enhanced post-COVID recovery and effective response to emergency

1. Challenges

The COVID-19 brought us the following challenges. First, in the psychological aspect, social isolation and loneliness lead to increased rates of mental illness overall, and especially among youngsters and women [1]. Second, in the social aspect, the UK suffered from a devastating loss of charity funds with many organizations having to close down when help is the most needed, leading to a mismatch of demand and supply in this realm [2, 3]. Third, with the negative shock in the economy, especially the small and medium-sized enterprises and local family businesses were hit severely [4, 5].

2. Proposal in brief

Thus, I would like to propose a policy that can transform support bubbles into social assets, by joining digital currency on the existing support bubbles in order to build a strong sense of community, promote positive, voluntary actions, and help the local economy.

Within a given community cluster, a sophisticated incentive mechanism can be introduced, such that a voluntary good deed by a member can be rewarded in form of digital currency, which then the member can choose to either donate or spend in local shops. A strong web of connections that spans from the individual, the community, to the local economy will help provide synergy and flexibility in UK’s recovery from COVID and in national preparedness for any kinds of future emergency situations.

3. Theoretical backgrounds

Previous studies on Game Theory and Behavioural Economics have suggested the role of public policy in nudging people towards making more socially desirable choices, especially when the individual incentives can be aligned with the goals of a larger system [6, 7]. Also known as the Incentive-Centered Design, examples have been found both in the private sector regarding the user-generated contents and in the public sector where public policies can help set default options for instance in organ donations [8, 9].

4. Concrete implementation aspects

(1) Make community clusters

Support bubble was introduced in June 2020, and by August 44% of adults in Great Britain had formed a support bubble [10]. While the eligibility and coverage continued to evolve (i.e., childcare bubble or Christmas bubble), by 2021 most of the public has some familiarity with this policy. Based on the government’s experience of developing and deploying the NHS COVID application, the government can form a digital platform to keep a record of these spontaneously formed social connections and link them to form “community clusters.”

For the initial formation of these clusters, all types of local organizations such as the local council, public interest foundation, or healthcare group can jointly participate. For each community cluster, a project manager-type member can be selected based on the specific context of the emergency situation. For example, under the COVID pandemic, a person with experience of working in the pharmaceutical industry, healthcare, or psychological services may be suitable.

(2) Promote voluntary contributions through incentive and active feedback

Within each community cluster, people can use the platform (preferably, in form of a smartphone application) provided by the central government to help one another through actions such as delivery, teaching, or counseling, which will be especially useful in times of crisis. Such activities can further be appraised by the members similar to the recognition schemes in social media platforms. Based on the number of contributions and feedback from the members, the central government can provide digital currencies that can be used locally.

In essence, the proposed policy will manifest itself through an integrated digital platform that keeps a record of good deeds performed for the community, facilitate joint appraisal by the community, and manage digital currencies to be distributed to the members.

(3) Return to society by spending

Recipients of the digital currency will have an option of either donating to charity or spending in local stores. The increased expenditure will help the small and medium enterprises and local family businesses that depend on the local economy. With digital currency, it is easy to introduce caps to the maximum amount or set an expiration date to reduce fraud and increase spending within a specified time-period.

5. Expected outcomes

The UK has experiences with the support bubble, the NHS COVID applications, and the usage of local currencies in some cities. Supported by increased use of technology and data coverage, the policy can be implemented to (1) promote members to perform good deeds, (2) reduce a sense of social isolation and instead create a sense of community, and (3) increase dynamism in the local economy. In other words, the support bubble is no longer a “Bubble” that forms and disappears spontaneously, but a concrete “Social Asset” that can be utilized especially in a crisis.

One possibility is to conduct pilot projects in regions that have experience with local currencies. Although the policy implementation will require support from the government, the policy introduces social contributions – which have been largely exempt from social valuation until now – to the center of public attention. In this aspect, the policy can be considered a market-generating governmental intervention.

As experience with the policy accumulates, the government can also increase the intensity of the incentive as a form of giving universal credit. Through the cluster-specific scheme, the government can also take into consideration the gap in socioeconomic status to fine-tune the incentive scheme. In the long run, the government’s experience of working with digital currency will serve as a groundbreaking approach.


[1] Jia R, et al. Mental health in the UK during the COVID-19 pandemic: cross-sectional analyses from a community cohort study





[6] Thaler, Richard H., and Cass R Sunstein. 2003. “Libertarian Paternalism.” American Economic Review 93 (2): 175-79.

[7] Baddeley, Michelle. 2017. Behavioural Economics: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press.

[8] Thaler, Richard H., and Cass R Sunstein. 2008. Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness. New Haven: Yale UP

[9] Lian Jian and Jeffrey K. MacKie-Mason, 2012, “Incentive-Centered Design for User-Contributed Content”. The Oxford Handbook of The Digital Economy.





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