top of page


How the UK government weaponised fear during the Covid-19 pandemic


Laura Dodsworth

This is a book about fear. Fear of a virus. Fear of death. Fear of losing our jobs, our democracy, our human connections, our health and our minds. It's also about how the government weaponised our fear against us – supposedly in our best interests – until we were one of the most frightened countries in the world.

But why did the government deliberately frighten us? How has this affected us as individuals and as a country? Who is involved in the decision-making that affects our lives? How are behavioural science and nudge theory being used to subliminally manipulate us? How does the media leverage fear? What are the real risks to our wellbeing?Ahead of any official inquiry into the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, Laura Dodsworth explores all these questions and more, in a nuanced and thought-provoking discussion of an extraordinary year in British life and politics. With stories from members of the general public who were impacted by fear, anxiety and isolation, and revealing interviews with psychologists, politicians, scientists, lawyers, Whitehall advisers and journalists, A State of Fear calls for a more hopeful, transparent and effective democracy.


'This is an important book. The use of fear as a tool of political management is a major challenge to democracy which every one should reflect upon, whatever their view about lockdowns and Covid-19.'
Lord Sumption

'A State of Fear is dark and compelling, and yet woven throughout with the determination - the heartfelt need - to get beyond these dreadful days. When governments sow fear they must reap a bitter crop. From the beginning of lockdown I have been worried to death about the certain and unavoidable consequences of making and keeping an entire population frightened. Already we see that too many people regard their fellow citizens - even family and friends - as the enemy, petri dishes swimming with contagion. As a population and a society we are atomised as never before. I can scarcely imagine how the damage done might be undone. Most of all I fear what all of this has done - and will continue to do - to compromise the futures of our children. All of these concerns and many more besides are given a desperately needed airing between the pages of this book. This is a timely piece of work, shot through with the voices of frightened people. Those voices must be heard and properly listened to. Altogether this is a fascinating consideration of how fear has been used again and again throughout history and in one civilisation after another, so that governments and others in authority might get their own way. A State of Fear is an affecting and troubling read.'
Neil Oliver, writer and broadcaster

'This book is a thoroughly researched account of the amplification of public fear throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. It asks vital questions about the science and ethics of behavioural interventions. These have gone beyond ‘nudging’ to undermine democratic values and the rule of law. UK citizens will suffer from the consequences for many years to come.'
Robert Dingwall, Professor of Sociology, Nottingham Trent University

'A chilling post-mortem of 2020’s silent epidemic - fear - and how it was used by a behavioural science apparat to terrify us into submission. It’s a thorough, fascinating and important book which I absolutely loved – I couldn’t put it down!'
Patrick Fagan, behavioural scientist

'Laura Dodsworth slices open the culture of fear we have been deliberately manipulated to experience in this pandemic crisis with a journalistic forensic scalpel. The role of behavioural science in instilling fear in the UK population is explored through the lens of those involved in developing policies, ‘outlier academics’, experts and researchers who have questioned the dominant ‘fear-based’ policy narrative. Analysis of events and expert testimony is interspersed with heart-breaking vignettes of the real-life experiences of fear that people lived with during the pandemic. The events and experiences of this past year will take considerable time for us to unpack and comprehend, and A State of Fear is an excellent early analysis of one of the most concerning elements of government policy in this crisis. I was gripped by it and devoured it in one sitting. There is no doubt that our collective ‘cognitive roadmap’ in relation to fear and risk perception has been completely obliterated in the past year. Naming and acknowledging what has happened is an important first step to recovery. Books like this will help us get there and heal.' --Professor Ellen Townsend, Professor of Psychology, University of Nottingham

bottom of page