Two months of floods have wreaked chaos in Somerset.
Scores of families have been evacuated from flooded villages such as Moorland. Some homes have been flooded several times since winter began.
“We can’t get insurance any more, because the place flooded last year,” one resident of Burrowbridge told Socialist Worker. Other homes have been flooded for the first time.
More than 65 square kilometres of the Somerset Levels remained underwater as Socialist Worker went to press.
Much has been flooded since before Christmas. The water teems with disease thanks to overflowing septic tanks and animal waste.
The water at Moorland now contains almost 70 times the level of bacteria that the World Health Organisation considers safe for agricultural water.
The bulk of the flooding has been on agricultural land, and some of the area’s richest farmers have been prominent in the media.
But farm workers face more uncertainty as floods combine with Tory attacks on the Agricultural Wages Board (AWB).
“They’ve thrown everything up in the air,” John Burbage, chair of the Unite union’s Tolpuddle and district agricultural workers branch told Socialist Worker.
“There are 50,000 people who live in tied cottages owned by their employer, and the AWB kept those rents down.
“Now no one knows where they stand. The floods mean people are having to work much longer hours, and without paid overtime the hourly rate for many is less than the minimum wage.”
Disruption to roads and railway lines means many workers face longer commutes. Post has been cut off to many villages, and workers face a struggle to get time off work.
“Post workers were outraged when a worker was refused permission to go and check on his 84 year old mother,” said Dave Chapple, a post worker and secretary of Bridgwater TUC.
“After a while there was a change of tack and emergency special leave was granted.”
Ordinary people have responded to the floods with an outpouring of goodwill.
Workers at the council-run relief centre at Bridgwater’s Westfield Church said the response had been “fantastic”.
Liz from the village of Chedzoy said, “It’s really moving how everyone’s coming together to help. People have offered up their homes.”
Sue Park, a social worker from Burnham-on-sea added, “Ordinary people have been making up food bags for villages.
“Farmers have donated silage and even builders’ merchants have donated sand bags.
“The government has cut essential services, including the Environment Agency that deals with flooding.
“Firefighters have to do a lot, and they’ve been having to strike to defend their pensions.
“It shouldn’t take the army to come and deal with this.”