By Dave Sewell
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Tory spin on cuts doesn’t wash with flood victims

This article is over 8 years, 3 months old
Issue 2485
Flooding in York
Flooding in York (Pic: alh1/Flickr)

People hit by flooding are turning their anger on David Cameron after Tory cuts to flood defences, councils and rescue services left them unprotected.

Storms Desmond, Eva and Frank wreaked devastation in Cumbria, Lancashire, Yorkshire, north east Scotland and the Scottish borders over Christmas.

Cameron claimed the government was doing all it could to deal with “unprecedented” floods.

But Marilyn told Socialist Worker this was a “bloody joke”. Her council estate in Lower Broughton, Salford, was flooded on Boxing Day.

“Either he’s taking the mickey or he’s so out of touch,” she said. “He’s never known what it’s like to have no money.”

Maria Brabiner, also from Lower Broughton, said, “People are angry—many have lost everything. I was lucky, but some neighbours’ homes are just empty shells.

“It’s heartbreaking at the elderly people’s sheltered housing—they only have a ground floor and had nowhere to put their things.”

She added, “The government is letting people claim £500 for repairs, but that’s not enough.

“Everything’s been destroyed—freezers, ovens, furniture, flooring. And the water leaves behind this mud everywhere.

“Most people don’t have flood insurance, it’s very expensive.”

Maria Brabiner’s estate was flooded

Maria Brabiner’s estate was flooded

Maria said she was “gobsmacked that people weren’t given a warning”.

“In 1980 police knocked on everyone’s doors to give a flood warning, in 1983 they went in the streets with a megaphone,” she said.

In York—where four of the five MPs are Tories—people heckled Cameron over the cuts. Frank Ormston told Socialist Worker that many locals found his publicity stunts there “insulting”.

“He jumped out of his vehicle in his wellies and waded through water to speak to army commanders,” he said.

“But there was dry land only a few feet away. They didn’t need to be in water, but he wanted to be seen as a man of action.

“It was insulting. Plenty of people here are wading knee deep in water without a choice.”

Ministers claimed they were caught unawares, but they were shown a report from organisations that deal with floods in November.

It warned that cuts were leaving them less equipped to deal with floods, while extreme weather made them more likely.

Steve Johnston was in Leeds on Boxing Day. He reported, “You’re struck by the number of Environment Agency and fire service workers, street cleaners and security guards.

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

He added, “Homes, flats, offices and shops have been built on flood plains.”

Response from ordinary people shows up lack of official support

Solidarity from ordinary people has shown up the lack of support from the authorities.

Gwen in York told Socialist Worker, “People have been doing everything they can to help those affected.

“Local churches and community centres have been used as collection points for food, clothes and electrical goods for those who have been flooded out.

“The GMB union has also put a call out for donations to be brought to its local office for distribution.”

Many have remarked on the solidarity from Muslim volunteer organisations.

In York the mosque was the first organisation to fill and distribute sandbags.

In Greater Manchester Syrian refugees helped with flood relief.

Refugee and coordinator Amaf told Socialist Worker, “This community welcomed us and protected us. And when I saw the floods on TV I thought, that’s a way we can help them.

“Living through the crisis in Syria we know what it’s like to lose your home.

“We got a lot of greetings and a lot of welcoming thank yous all the time.”

Some right wing politicians and commentators called for overseas aid to be cut to pay for flood relief.

Amaf said, “They have the right to think what they want.

“But by getting up and supporting each other we build our communities the way we want. We don’t have to wait for them.”

Promise of new funding won’t undo cuts damage

New funding doesn’t come close to making up for a wide range of previous and continuing cuts.

The Environment Agency (EA) has reduced maintenance and even stopped operating some flood defences in Cumbria and Lancashire due to deep cuts.

Its chiefs say Treasury-imposed spending rules mean it isn’t allowed to spend anything on some schemes.

EA funding has dropped by 14 percent and the agency has suffered large-scale job cuts even after the major floods of 2014.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency also faces a 6 percent cut next year—the Scottish National Party announced this during the floods.

Many councils—including Labour-run authorities—have cut schemes that manage water levels

Questions are being asked in York about whether a similar lack of maintenance is behind the failure of the River Foss Barrier. Its control room was flooded, threatening the electrics.

The whole public sector is tested when responding to floods—but across the board it has been weakened.

Local authority budgets have been cut more than 40 percent since 2010.

Many councils—including Labour-run authorities—have cut schemes that manage water levels as a result.

In many areas the army has carried out most of the rescue operations, because large-scale cuts to fire brigades left them unable to cope.

Yet more fire stations in flood-hit areas are marked for closure.

Jump in flood plain housing

The Tories want to make it easier to build homes that would be at risk of flooding.

The Housing and Planning Bill, which MPs were set to debate this week, would grant “automatic permission in principle” for new homes on brownfield sites. Yet these are often areas most vulnerable to flooding.

The number of homes on flood plains has increased by

1.2 percent annually since 2011—compared to just 0.7 percent in other areas.

Often these areas are where homes are cheapest, leaving benefit claimants and poorer workers no choice but to move there. In York a Travellers’ site built next to a river was flooded too.

Despite government attacks on “red tape” more, not less, planning is needed to prepare for floods.

The paving over of ground in urban areas means water can’t be soaked up. And clearances of trees and vegetation on hills speeds up the flows to lower areas.

The town of Pickering in North Yorkshire avoided flooding with a series of “leaky dams”, new woodland, and other obstacles to slow water down.

But doing this on a larger scale would make the land less profitable—and clash with government and the European Union subsidies.

Climate chaos brings floods

heavy rain is part of a worldwide pattern of extreme weather.

The past month has seen major flooding in South America, freak storms in North America and dangerously warm temperatures at the North Pole.

This is partly because 2015-16 is an El Nino year, when a long cycle of warm ocean currents changes wind patterns. But many scientists are saying that this El Nino year could be one of the worst because it’s taking place in a hotter world.

A general increase in extreme rainfall has long been predicted as an effect of global warming.

Researchers at Oxford University and the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute found that climate change had made Storm Desmond 40 percent more likely.

But the government continues to make climate change worse.

It has just announced new cuts to subsidies for solar power and new measures to allow fracking in national parks.

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