Risk and Resilience

Risk and Resilience

In 6th in the WISE blog series, Dr Claire MacRae, Senior Lecturer in Risk at GCU and a member of the WISE Centre for Economic Justice, considers the exacerbation of social risks experienced by UK communities as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.


The Covid-19 pandemic does not affect everyone equally.  A simplified but effective way of describing the current crisis is ‘We’re not in the same boat, we’re in the same storm’, a meme recently shared on social media.  In developing an exit strategy, local and central governments, in conjuction with other stakeholders, must be mindful of the multiple complexities endured by communities during lockdown.

Covid-19 has resulted in an increased exposure to, and intensity of, social risks already experienced by individuals and communities, further reducing their ability and capacity to be resilient.  A decade of cuts to council budgets and ‘austerity’ measures have decimated health and social care services along with many other support services[i]. Social risks are generally linked with experience of unemployment, increased health inequalities, financial instability, reduced educational attainment, loneliness and a breakdown of support networks, both formal and informal[ii].

Institutional responses by the UK and Scottish Governments to reduce the spread of the virus such as social distancing, working from home, self-isolation, limited exercise and travel for only essential items, have the potential to create, and intensify, various financial, physical and/or emotional experiences. While such measures may be considered necessary, for many this has led to an increase in adverse circumstances necessitating a variety of coping mechanisms. As key health services remain underutilised and recovery services, including informal support networks are removed, longer-term health issues will prevail.

It is clear that a range of life stages, and other personal characteristics such as gender, race, and disability, represent different experiences of Covid-19 and the sources of social risk encountered.  It is therefore important that this is managed appropriately in the aftermath of this pandemic.  Undoubtedly, there has been an ‘amplified’ redistribution of social risk from governments to communities[iii] which are ordinarily supported both formally and/or informally.

Developing measures to analyse social risk as a consequence of policy change has long been debated and requires systematic and comprehensive consideration.  As early as 1990, international organisations like the World Bank[iv], developed conceptual frameworks focusing on socio-economic deprivation and the subsequent exposure and vulnerability of communities to social risks. Although intended as a global strategy, social risk management has failed to integrate conceptually into the decision-making of UK and devolved governments. In contrast, for the past decade there has been a great deal of effort to integrate social risk analysis explicitly into the financial decision-making processes of local government, in conjunction with other policies, to build community resilience. This approach recognises all groups experiencing disadvantage or vulnerability, for example ‘in-work poor’, and so is not limited to those characteristics protected under equalities legislation[v].  Yet, it remains to be adopted.

The recently leaked National Security Risk Assessment (NSRA)[vi] document suggests that the systematic risk identification, analysis and mitigation recently conducted by the UK Government for such a pandemic was correct – up to a point. The NSRA risk assessment identified many of the risks associated with such a pandemic outlining mitigation measures which have since been adopted.   A lack of preparedness by the UK Government in responding quickly and effectively to the pandemic should be attributed to the actions taken, or not in this case, beyond the risk assessment stage.  For example, investing in critical public services as a mitigation strategy.  A question remains then as to whether the wider social risk impact to communities was assessed during any stage of this process?

Policy-makers and practitioners need to consider the wider social implications of institutional responses to the Covid-19 pandemic within constrained financial resources.  The consequences of Covid-19 are significant for society, as are the longer-term risk implications for public services such as the NHS, employment services and welfare support, as the country exits this global pandemic.  The Guardian reported that Councils in England could see a shortfall of up to £3.5bn across the local government social care sector as a result of an overall reduction in income[vii].  In response, there must be dialogue between all stakeholder groups within the public, voluntary, charity and community sectors to provide the foundations for the conceptualisation, identification, operationalisation and governance of social risks arising. The present short-termism approach, without wider consideration of increased social risk planning, creates its own challenges for society and public services including the financial burden for both- which will be inevitable.

Exiting from the Covid-19 pandemic presents a clear role and opportunity for UK and devolved Governments and other public agencies to engage in and support social risk analysis in future planning.   Agencies should adopt a long-term social risk perspective in response to the longer-term implications of the Covid-19 crisis which is focused, where possible, on preventative and early intervention measures.

As part of the explicit consideration of social risk, lessons must be learned to ensure that communities and public services are supported to be resilient and prepared for such massive shocks.  Resilience must be proactive, not reactive.  If #BuildBackBetter is to be more than a slogan, governments and communities must be jointly engaged in identifying and eliminating social risk, improving accountability and building community cohesion.



[i] Asenova, Bailey & McCann (MacRae) (2013) Managing the Social Risks of Public Spending Cuts in Scotland https://www.jrf.org.uk/report/managing-social-risks-public-spending-cuts-scotland

[ii] Asenova, McKendrick, McCann (MacRae), Reynolds (2015) Redistribution of Social and Societal Risk  https://www.jrf.org.uk/report/redistribution-social-and-societal-risk

[iii] Asenova, Bailey & McCann (MacRae) (2013) Managing the Social Risks of Public Spending Cuts in Scotland https://www.jrf.org.uk/report/managing-social-risks-public-spending-cuts-scotland

[iv] Holzmann, Sherburne-benz & Tesliuc (2003)  Social Risk Management: The World Bank’s approach to managing Social Protection in a Globalising World https://gsdrc.org/document-library/social-risk-management-the-world-banks-approach-to-social-protection-in-a-globalising-world/

[v] The Equality Act 2010 http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/15/contents

[vi] What does the leaked report tell us about the UK’s pandemic preparations https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/24/preparing-for-pandemic-national-security-risk-assessment-coronavirus

[vii] https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/may/14/councils-in-england-fear-they-will-have-to-make-cuts-of-20


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