Researchers have identified areas in England and Wales that are most at risk of becoming hotbeds to right-wing extremism because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

An analysis of 336 councils produced a list of 52 areas in which far-right support and community tensions are expected to rise.  

16 of those 52 local authorities were identified to be at particular high risk.  

According to Hope not Hate, these were Liverpool, Middlesbrough, Peterborough, and the Lancashire towns Blackpool, Bolton and Pendle.

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

Hope not Hate, a campaign group, has released a report that identifies the 16 local authorities most vulnerable to far-right extremism from economic fallout of the pandemic.

In the Midlands, Wolverhampton, Sandwell and Leicester feature in the top 16.

The South East of England contains hotspots within the top 16 – Luton, Barking and Dagenham (London); Thurrock Borough council and Harlow Town, both from Essex; and Swale and Thanet, both from 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. 

People wearing face masks cross a road in 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

Rochdale is one the 16 areas most susceptible to seeing rising inter-community tensions following the Covid-19 pandemic.

A man waits at a bus stop in Rochdale, Greater Manchester. Campaign group Hope not Hate said Rochdale and fifteen other areas were especially likely to see far-right extremism spawning, due to the disproportionate economic shock and projected slower recovery

A man waits at the bus stop in Rochdale (Greater Manchester). Campaign group Hope not Hate stated that Rochdale and fifteen other areas are more likely to see far right extremism spawning due to the disproportionate economic shocks and slower recovery. 

Clothes dry on a washing line that traverses a housing estate in Rochdale, one of the 16 areas in the country with 'less liberal than average' attitudes to migration and multiculturalism

Clothes are dried on a washing machine that runs through Rochdale, one the 16 areas of the country with less liberal than average attitudes to immigration and multiculturalism

“Economic hardship may fuel community tensions. These may be articulated through the elections of far-right politicians or spikes in hate crimes or one-off flashpoints spiralling beyond control.

All 52 areas in the report, released Monday, suffered significant downturns during pandemic. They also all showed slow recovery rates following previous shocks. 

The 52 hotspots that could lead to rising tensions have reportedly ‘less liberal’ than average attitudes to immigration and multiculturalism.  

An elderly lady in Middlesbrough 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

Two storefronts in Middlesbrough are occupied by an elderly lady who promises to pay cash for any unwanted goods. Hope note Hate has included the area in its top 16 list of tinderbox authorities. This makes it vulnerable to a rise of racism and far-right extremism. 

Two men walk towards a betting shop on a street in Middlesbrough. The area could see a surge in racist and xenophobic sentiments, according to Hope not Hate's analysis

Two men walk in the direction of a betting shop on Middlesbrough’s street. Hope not Hate’s analysis suggests that the area could see an increase in racist and xenophobic sentiments.

There are 144 towns in the 52 jurisdictions. They have an average population of 47,000, which is higher than the average town in England or Wales. This compares to the national average 38,000. 

Hope not Hate singled out Harlow in the west of Essex. The report cited several factors that were against Harlow’s heritage assets, its housing costs, and the absence of assets conferring any status. These include ‘city status, football team, medieval history, and city status.

According to the report, there was a strong feeling in 52 at-risk areas that austerity had not ended and that a new wave of cuts would leave councils without any capacity to strengthen trust or build community relations. 

Anglesey in Wales was the only place that made it onto the 52 at-risk authorities list. 

List of 52 also included seaside towns like Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, and beauty spots like Eden at the Lake District’s edge.

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 (pictured), 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'

Harlow (pictured), located in the west Essex, also made it to the top 16, despite having ‘fewer heritage properties, cheaper housing, and assets conferring statut’.

Mr Clarke is a Policy Researcher at Hope not Hate. He said that when people worry about their financial futures, or feel extra pressure on jobs and services, community resilience may suffer. 

“The pandemic is expected to cause real hardship in some parts of the country. Our research examines both long-term and short-term economic factors to determine where these are most likely to increase cohesion and resilience. 

“The 52 places that we identify are the ones where the pandemic has increased these challenges.

“We have worked with many of the affected areas to determine what is needed to prevent social divides from forming. 

Although each place is unique, even within the 52 list, there are several key themes. These included the crucial role played by the faith, community, and voluntary sectors, the importance investing in skills, and the need for designated resources earmarked specifically to community relations. 

“Austerity was never really over for most of these authorities, and in some cases COVID has revealed huge gaps in social capital.