Researchers have identified 52 areas in England where low “community resilience” is most at risk of being exacerbated by the Covid-related economic downturn, which could allow far-right activity to more easily prosper.
Hope not Hate, a charity which works to tackle far-right extremism, said each area had suffered from “significant” short-term impacts of Covid, had a reduced long-term ability to recover from the economic effects, and was more hostile to migration and multiculturalism.
“We believe that these are the local authorities where stresses on social cohesion have potentially been amplified most acutely by the economic consequences of the pandemic,” researchers said.
“This does not mean they will automatically be susceptible to far-right overtures, or even that they are the most vulnerable in the country to cohesion issues. But it does mean that these are the areas where Covid-19 has heightened existing risks.”
Areas seen as particularly at risk are:
- Barking and Dagenham
Researchers said more areas could join the list of 52 in the future if the economy did not recover sufficiently enough in the post-pandemic years.
They said that, in times of economic hardship, relationships within communities can become frayed and allow resentment to build, allowing those who “seek to divide” to exploit the situation.
Immigration and diversity were described as “totemic emblems for the grievances which people feel across Britain”.
Local leaders in areas most at risk reported that years of austerity had left long-lasting wounds that may deepen because of the pandemic.
“The post-pandemic landscape poses enormous challenges for ensuring hope over hate,” said Rosie Carter, head of policy at Hope not Hate.
“The economic impact of the pandemic will be palpable, and many communities across the country are rightly worried about what the future will hold,” she said. “But an additional risk that our research has identified is the fact that without a renewed focus on establishing social cohesion, ‘levelling up’ will not succeed.”
The findings were part of a wider report looking into attitudes over the government’s Levelling Up agenda, which works to help the communities and people who feel left behind.
It found that 80 per cent of those surveyed lacked confidence Prime Minister Boris Johnson would succeed in levelling up the country. Nearly 44 per cent fear they or a family member will lose their job in the next 12 months, while 63 per cent are concerned about the level of racism in the UK.
About 54 per cent felt less hopeful about the future due to Covid, while 62 per cent said the pandemic had exposed the great level of inequality in British society.
“To truly succeed in ‘levelling up’ and to fill the public with confidence in the government’s ability to create meaningful change, we need to look beyond definitions of ‘levelling up’ which relate purely to economic infrastructure,” said Ms Carter.
“We need the government to ‘build back resilient’ instead, by investing in integration and by supporting community groups, which strengthen community resilience but have been lost to years of austerity. If this is not addressed, any attempts to ‘level up’ will sadly fail.”