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Article | Managing Risk

Will current crises prompt civil unrest in the U.K.?

By Frederick Gentile and Lucy Stanbrough | September 21, 2022

We explore the factors that could fuel civil unrest and consider their impact.
Risk & Analytics|Risk Management Consulting
Geopolitical Risk

Factors that could prompt civil unrest in the U.K., encouraged by social media activism, include:

  • Economic hardship
  • Mistrust in government and concern over government overreach
  • Anti-vaccination sentiment and civil liberties concerns.

The recent scorching summer in the U.K. offers a perfect analogy for answering this question: the extreme heat and dryness left conditions primed for further drastic impacts.

With significant economic uncertainty as the spectre of a global recession looms large, supply chain volatility caused by geopolitical uncertainty, coupled with spiralling costs of basic commodities and energy prices continuing to rise, adding one or a combination of further events may spark highly flammable societal conditions into full-blown blazes.

These events could include any one, or a combination, of the following:

  • Industrial action coming to a head, paralysing the country as unions jockey for public and political sympathy
  • Supply conditions for critical utilities, such as power or water, worsening, resulting in restrictions or blackouts
  • Public confidence in policing falling to an all-time low as a result of further scandals or mishandled events
  • Delay or inaction by the Government resulting in loss of support and confidence
  • A cyberattack on the voting systems provoking a loss of confidence in the democratic process, as recently suggested in relation to the Conservative leader voting process1
  • Geopolitical threats, such as E.U. fragmentation, destabilising global economy further; Hungary or other E.U. countries aligning to Russia thus weakening the effect of global sanctions; Chinese aggression towards Taiwan intensifying, resulting in new trade wars and China leveraging supply continuity against the West.

How could civil unrest affect your organisation?

It is, of course, difficult to predict exactly what could or would happen, as much will depend on the extent and severity of any unrest. Rather than any one ‘doomsday’, we should instead expect gradually increasing pressure as societal frustrations result in more lines being crossed.

Organisations should be prepared for any, some, or all of the following:

  • Physical damage to assets following targeted attacks or general rioting
  • Depending how your organisation is perceived, threats to employees with the potential for physical violence
  • Disruption to operations both direct (following action against premises or business activity) and indirect (following action against a critical supplier, for example)
  • Negative messaging against a company directly (if perceived to be profiting from/contributing to economic distress, for example, energy utilities), or by association, with consequent reputational damage
  • Pressure on revenues/profits from various stakeholders, for example, activist groups, media, regulators, government
  • Targeted cyberattacks to punish/deter companies by socially motivated activists but also increased threat from organised criminal groups as they see organisations being distracted by civil unrest and leaving themselves exposed in terms of IT protection
  • Your own employees may identify or sympathise with the civil unrest issues and disengage with the organisation
  • Increasing regulatory pressure on companies to react to societal pressures, for example, energy companies becoming subject to additional windfall taxes, revising of costing models, and the like
  • Supply chain pressures leading to disruption at organisational level
  • Lending conditions becoming stricter as financial institutions take a harder stance on risk affecting cashflow
  • Claims settlements becoming subject to delays or disputes as insurer operations are disrupted, resulting in inability to settle claims within agreed time limits
  • The risk of litigation increasing as claims are disputed
  • Unrest leading to loss of confidence in FTSE and consequent share value falls
  • Increasing likelihood of prolonged recession, either at a national or global level, leading to premature foreclosure of businesses
  • Civil disorder leading to withdrawal or reduction in public services affecting employees, suppliers and customers.

While all of the above may sound like apocalyptic scenarios it is interesting to note the U.K. National Risk Register includes “widespread public disorder” defined as a low to mid-level risk, both in terms of probability (5 to 25 in 500) and impact, with potential economic costs ranging from £10 million to £100 million.2 That said, this risk grading featured in the 2020 version of the register and an updated iteration may look markedly different given the change in prevailing conditions.

Learn more about preparing for civil unrest and future risks

You’re invited to register for a new WTW Training Academy session: Ready for the future: Are you prepared for tomorrow’s risk landscape? This expert-led forum will focus on how your organisation can create robust and change-receptive risk management frameworks (RMFs).

The webinar will also consider how to use scenarios to explore possible futures and examine why organisations should bring together perspectives from across business units to ensure RMFs are fit-for-purpose and the entire business is properly preparing for the future. Register here.

Footnotes

1 https://www.reuters.com/world/uk/britains-conservative-party-voting-next-pm-delayed-after-hacking-alert-telegraph-2022-08-02/

2 https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/
attachment_data/file/952959/6.6920_CO_CCS_s_National_Risk_Register_2020_11-1-21-FINAL.pdf


Authors

Director of Risk Engagement

Head of Emerging Risks Research

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