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How safe do we feel?

Globally, the percentage of people who felt ‘less safe’ than they did five years earlier has increased from 30 per cent in 2019, to 34 per cent in 2021. The percentage who said they felt ‘more safe’ is unchanged at 27 per cent, according to the Lloyd’s Register Foundation World Risk Poll 2021.

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The findings of the poll are based on over 125,000 interviews conducted by Gallup in 121 countries, including places where little or no official data exists, giving a voice to millions of the world’s citizens.

Seven per cent of people worldwide named Covid-19 as the greatest source of risk to their safety, making it the fourth most commonly named threat, behind road-related incidents (13 per cent), crime and violence (12 per cent) and non-Covid-19 specific health issues (10 per cent), the report notes. Despite the uncertainty that the pandemic caused, Covid-19 had a limited effect on people’s feelings of safety in most regions, the poll finds. It says this demonstrates how, even during a global crisis, many people face other safety risks that demand their attention on a daily basis.

Strategies for keeping people safe from unusual crises such as pandemics should account for how they will intersect with people’s vulnerability to the threats they already face and how these existing threats may constrain their willingness or ability to comply with preventative measures, notes the report. Experience with serious harm from several risk sources was most common among those in their country’s lowest income groups, highlighting equity challenges in public services and infrastructure used to mitigate such risks, the report’s authors say.

Results from the 2021 study update key findings from the initial World Risk Poll conducted in 2019. Among those findings are that people’s perceptions of their exposure to risks often differ from their likelihood of experiencing them. Experience with risk varies widely by global setting. For example, work-related harms more often take the form of physical injury in lower-income economies where workers are more likely to have jobs in agriculture or manufacturing. In high-income economies with large service sectors, work-related harms involving gender-based violence and harassment are more common. 

Worryingly, few people around the world trust government or official organisations to keep them safe. For example, only 15 per cent of people worldwide trusted their government’s food safety authority as their primary source of information; many preferred to rely on friends and family or medical professionals.

The percentage of people worldwide who said they, or someone they know, experienced serious harm from severe weather events or mental health issues increased significantly between 2019 and 2021. Though people in low- and lower-middle-income countries are least likely to have access to mental health services, they were more likely than those in higher-income countries to say they had experienced serious harm from mental health issues in the past two years.

In 2021, 67 per cent of people viewed climate change as a threat to their country – a slight decrease from 2019. This percentage includes the 41 per cent who viewed it as a ‘very serious threat’ –  which remains unchanged from 2019. One recommendation that the report makes in this respect is the creation of campaigns to increase climate change awareness and understanding in areas with lower average education levels. These campaigns should also consider how to frame the threat in a way that is relevant to people’s lived experience.

The World Risk Poll results also suggest more can be done to reach less-educated populations, who may be particularly susceptible to the economic effects of severe weather.

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