Researchers have identified the areas in England and Wales most at risk of becoming hotbeds for right-wing extremism as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and its economic fallout.
The analysis of 336 councils returned a list of 52 areas where community tensions and far-right support are forecast to surge.
Of those 52 local authorities, 16 were highlighted as being at especially high risk.
They were Liverpool, Middlesbrough, Peterborough and the Lancashire towns of Blackpool, Bolton, Pendle and Rochdale feature on the list of 16 high-risk areas, according to a pre-release of the report from advocacy group Hope not Hate.
A report by campaign group Hope not Hate has revealed the 16 local authorities most at risk of seeing surges in far-right extremism due to economic fallout from the pandemic
In the Midlands, Leicester, Sandwell and Wolverhampton feature in the top 16 list.
The South East of England also contains hotspots in the top 16 – Luton; Barking and Dagenham in London; Thurrock Borough Council and Harlow Town, both in Essex; and Swale and Thanet in Kent.
Chris Clarke, a researcher at Hope not Hate, told The Guardian: ‘This doesn’t mean these places will automatically be susceptible to far right overtures, but the risk may have increased.
ROCHDALE: One of the 16 areas most likely to see rising inter-community tensions in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the report, with ‘less liberal than average’ attitudes to migration and multiculturalism
‘Economic hardship can fuel community tensions, and these may be articulated through the election of far-right politicians, spikes in hate crime or one-off flash points spiralling out of control.’
All 52 areas identified in the report, out Monday, have suffered significant downturns during the pandemic, and all have displayed sluggish recovery rates in the wake of previous shocks.
In addition, the 52 potential hotspots for rising tensions reportedly have ‘less liberal than average’ attitudes to migration and multiculturalism.
MIDDLESBROUGH: An elderly lady walks past two store fronts, both promising to pay cash for unwanted goods. The area has been included in Hope note Hate’s top 16 list of ‘tinderbox’ authorities, particularly vulnerable to see eruptions of far-right extremism and racism
Within the 52 authorities lie 144 towns, which on average have bigger populations than the typical town in England and Wales – with populations of 47,000 on average, compared with the national average of 38,000.
The town of Harlow, in the west of Essex, was singled out by the report from Hope not Hate, with factors counting against it including the fact it has ‘fewer heritage assets, cheaper housing and an absence of assets conferring status’, for example, ‘city status, football club, medieval history’.
The report said: ‘There was a strong sense in the 52 at risk areas that austerity had never really ended and that another wave of cuts would leave councils with little or no capacity to strengthen trust and build community relations.’
In Wales, Anglesey was the only place to make it onto the list of 52 at-risk authorities.
Seaside towns like Great Yarmouth in Norfolk as well as beauty spots like Eden on the edge of the Lake District also featured on the list of 52.
Broader analysis of the 52 “at risk” councils found they contained 144 towns which, on average, were larger than the typical town in England and Wales – with an average population of 47,000 compared to 38,000 nationally.
HARLOW: This town in the west of Essex also made the top 16 list, with factors counting against it including the fact it has ‘fewer heritage assets, cheaper housing and an absence of assets conferring status’
Mr Clarke, Policy Researcher at Hope not Hate, said: ‘When people have to worry about their financial futures or feel additional pressure on jobs and services, community resilience can suffer.
‘The pandemic is set to create a period of real hardship for parts of the country. Our research looks at long and short term economic factors, to identify where this is most likely to increase the challenges for cohesion and resilience.
‘The 52 places we identify are those where the pandemic has enlarged these challenges.
‘We have worked with several of the areas in question, to identify what is needed to prevent social divisions from emerging.
‘Every place is different, even within the list of 52, but several key themes emerged. These included the vital role played by the community, voluntary and faith sector, the importance of investing in skills, the need for designated resources, earmarked specifically for community relations, and the desire for more predictable, long-term funding.
‘For most of the authorities in question austerity had never really ended, and in some areas COVID has exposed massive gaps in social capital.’