Socialist Worker

Tory cuts turn extreme weather into social disaster

by Steve Johnston in Leeds
Issue No. 2484

The River Aire rises to record levels near Leeds Bridge

The River Aire rises to record levels near Leeds Bridge (Pic: Steve Johnston)


Heavy rain on Boxing Day led to flooding across large parts of northern England. Everywhere Tory cuts and privatisation have increased the devastation–and its impact on the poorest.

Leeds city centre was underwater after the River Aire burst its banks. Residents who spoke to Socialist Worker the following morning all said they had never seen the river reach such levels before. 

One man, whose garage was under water, said the flooding was half a metre higher than the previous record. 

His estate had been built six months ago within a few metres of the river. “I’m not sure my insurance will cover the damage,” he said. “And I’m pretty certain I’ll not get any further insurance after this.”

Walking through Leeds you’re struck by the number of Environment Agency and fire service workers, street cleaners and security guards. 

The road sweeper was already trying to clean up the three inches of mud left by the water. A street cleaner tried to collect the rubbish and council workers had brought sand bags to stop the water.

They all helped save people’s lives and belongings–and are all under threat from the Tory cuts. 

A security guard was photographing the front gate to a building, which the river was lapping alongside. “My boss won’t believe me that the gate isn’t working so I need proof,” he explained.  

He blamed the politicians in London who gave nothing to the North of England. 

A couple of homeless people judged the devastation to be the beginning of worse to come. ”It’s what happens if you fuck with the planet,” one said.

Politicians sold off land owned by the nationalised railways and waterways to speculators. Homes, flats, offices and shops have been built on flood plains.

In the north west Wigan saw its first major floods. Katrina Lawrie told Socialist Worker, "The council was completely unprepared–there's been no help from the authorities.

“The only advice from the council is, ‘Try not to go outside. And if you think you might be flooded move your stuff upstairs’.

“But many people who haven’t been flooded have opened up their homes to those who have.”

She added, “It's good that people look out for each other, but it shouldn't be left to individuals. 

Evicted 

Flooding also hit parts of nearby Manchester–just days after a court evicted homeless people from squatting an empty building. 

"We live in a society that throws people onto the street in a tent during the worst floods in living memory,” said Katrina. “It’s disgusting."

The Calder Valley in Yorkshire has seen repeated floods. Jenny Dalglish in Todmorden told Socialist Worker, "It's horrific. Hebden Bridge looks like a war zone.

"The floods and their aftermath will hit the poor and vulnerable groups hardest. The worst affected areas are those that are cheapest to rent. Benefit claimants often aren't accepted elsewhere.”

"There's also a lot of fear that businesses will start moving out and that there won't be jobs any more. 

“Even the businesses that can afford insurance are scared to claim on it.”

Todmorden was spared the worst of the floods–despite being hardest hit in the Calder Valley last time.

Jenny put that down to new flood defences. But hundreds of other planned flood defence schemes have been scaled back, delayed or scrapped because of cuts.

For the second time in a month the Tories have been forced to announce a review into flood defences. Just last year David Cameron blurted out amid public anger that “money is no object” for flood protection–only to push through cuts. 

The Tories have already brought in the army to plug the gaps left by fire cuts. Meanwhile fire brigades, including Greater Manchester, face their deepest cuts yet.

Yet these floods and their devastating impact haven’t caught the Tories unawares. They have no excuse for policies that turn extreme weather into social disaster.

Additional reporting by Dave Sewell


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