Attitudes towards risk

Public and institutional tolerance of risk has fallen, with the public increasingly seeking ‘zero risk' situations. Attitudes, driven largely by the media, have led to a culture of blame, and as American law firms spread overseas, it has been suggested that Britain is becoming an increasingly litigious society. Previous governments put in place policies to minimise risks; CRB checks, for example, reduced the ease of volunteering in certain situations. The Coalition Government is keen to remove barriers to people’s participation in their local communities (see Big Society Agenda). Their proposals include measures to insure people when they put on community events and changes to CRB checks.

What are the implications?

  • Given the public concern over risk, people could worry that community-led services may not be run professionally or safely.
  • People may turn to VCOs as trusted brands to help evaluate, rate, and decide whether to use certain service providers, be they community-run, privately-run or otherwise.
  • Changes to how organisations deliver services and interact with their users as they seek to minimise risk.
  • A risk that innovative working practices are stifled.
  • Barriers to working with more vulnerable groups of people who need more protection, increasing the risk that certain groups become further marginalised.
  • Pressure on organisations to keep up-to-date with changes in legislation (e.g. health and safety) and implement policies and procedures across their organisation.
  • Increased pressure to have transparent procedures in place.
  • A low tolerance of risk can result in lower trust in institutions, particularly organisations that deliver public services.
  • Increased professionalisation of volunteering as more procedures and structures to mitigate against risk are put in place.
  • Potential difficulties recruiting volunteers who are concerned about the levels of risk involved.

Moving forward

There could be fears that community-run services may not be delivered professionally and also fears that privately-run services might deliver a bare minimum so as to make a profit. VCOs may be seen as the only trustworthy players.

  • Can your organisation become involved in delivery of local services? Would you be able to work in collaboration with a community group and/or a privately-held service provider?

People are not generally tolerant of risk. As a charity you need to take steps to protect yourself.

  • Does your organisation have the appropriate procedures and policies in place to ensure any potential risks within your organisation are managed?
  • Are you transparent about the need, reasons for and implications of these policies and procedures?
  • Do you understand the different laws and policies that your organisation needs to comply with? What do they involve?
  • Do you understand the true risks of recruiting volunteers and any work they might carry out? How can you reassure people about the levels of risk involved?

Attitudes can be changed. With the Coalition Government’s policies attempting to free people from the fear of things going wrong, campaigns of yours with a message around participation could be well received.

  • Should your organisation be lobbying to make sure that the effects of a risk averse society do not impact unfairly on vulnerable groups of people?

Want to know more?

Unkind, risk averse and untrusting - if this is today's society, can we change it?

Published by: Joseph Rowntree Foundation

Date: 2008

Format: PDF

What is it? A viewpoint report examining the alleged ‘decline in values’ in British society, including risk-adversity.

How useful is this? This report challenges the alleged ‘social evils’; the belief that society has become obsessed by self, the result of which has been a decline in values, including risk-adversity. It examines why these occur, and presents simple solutions to challenge these new norms. This report examines what has driven these changes in society, and looks at how increasing risk-aversion, including checks and controls, have caused people to withdraw within themselves.

Other comments:  Part of the ‘social evils’ debate conducted by JRF.


Published by: Social Issues Research Centre

Date: 2006

Format: PDF

What is it? Report examining how British society has become more risk adverse in recent years.

How useful is this? This report examines where risk adversity derives from and how it relates to changes in lifestyle in modern Britain.  With sections on current anxieties, sources of worry, future worries, the main focus of this study focuses on where risk adversity derives from, and therefore how it can be managed.  A mixture of desk based and field based research, the report presents an accessible exploration of the topic. 

Other comments:

SCARR: Social contexts and responses to risk

Published by: Various

Date: Ongoing, from 2003

Format: Web pages and PDF

What is it? A joint project between the University of Kent, Economic and Social Research Council and the Sociology of Risk and Uncertainly project, examining all aspects of risk in modern society.

How useful is this?  The breadth of research included in this project enables it to offer an in depth exploration of all aspects of risk, risk adversity and risk management from an inter-disciplinary background.  Key reports include: Risk perceptions and responses: transitions in the lifecourse; Risk in perspective: private choices and public decisions; Testing the ‘Risk Society’ hypothesis; Public understanding of regimes of risk regulation.

Other comments:  This is an ongoing project and new findings and publications are therefore regularly updated.

Last updated at 16:24 Thu 24/Mar/11.


How will this affect your organisation? Have you considered it during your strategic planning? Can you share any interesting relevant links?

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