Regional Environmental Change

, Volume 18, Issue 2, pp 339–352 | Cite as

Flood vulnerability, risk, and social disadvantage: current and future patterns in the UK

  • Paul Sayers
  • Edmund C. Penning-Rowsell
  • Matt Horritt
Original Article


Present day and future social vulnerability, flood risk, and disadvantage across the UK are explored using the UK Future Flood Explorer. In doing so, new indices of neighbourhood flood vulnerability and social flood risk are introduced and used to provide a quantitative comparison of the flood risks faced by more and less socially vulnerable neighbourhoods. The results show the concentrated nature of geographic flood disadvantage. For example, ten local authorities account for 50% of the most socially vulnerable people that live in flood prone areas. The results also highlight the systematic nature of flood disadvantage. For example, flood risks are higher in socially vulnerable communities than elsewhere; this is shown to be particularly the case in coastal areas, economically struggling cities, and dispersed rural communities. Results from a re-analysis of the Environment Agency’s Long-Term Investment Scenarios (for England) suggest a long-term economic case for improving the protection afforded to the most socially vulnerable communities; a finding that reinforces the need to develop a better understanding of flood risk in socially vulnerable communities if flood risk management efforts are to deliver fair outcomes. In response to these findings, the paper advocates an approach to flood risk management that emphasises Rawlsian principles of preferentially targeting risk reduction for the most socially vulnerable and avoids a process of prioritisation based upon strict utilitarian or purely egalitarian principles.


Flood Risk Social vulnerability Disadvantage Social justice Climate change Climate justice 



The authors gratefully acknowledge the funding provided by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (Katharine Knox) through their support of our research into flood resilience in disadvantaged communities (Sayers et al. 2017) that forms the basis of this paper. The assistance of Jessie Fieth is also acknowledged.

Supplementary material

10113_2017_1252_MOESM1_ESM.doc (10.8 mb)
ESM 1 (DOC 11034 kb)
10113_2017_1252_MOESM2_ESM.docx (18 kb)
ESM 2 (DOCX 17 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Sayers and PartnersWatlingtonEngland
  2. 2.Flood Hazard Research CentreMiddlesex UniversityLondonEngland
  3. 3.Horritt ConsultingRoss on WyeEngland

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