A letter a day to number 10. No 1,301
Wednesday 30 December 2015.
Dear Mr Cameron,
Now that you’ve taken advantage of the floods for a photo opportunity and to point at things perhaps you’d like to take the opportunity explain why flood defence spending has been cut year on year since 2010 and why a report by the Committee on Climate Change which recommended you ‘develop a strategy to address the increasing number of homes in areas of high flood risk’ was rejected?
In January 2014 George Monbiot raised the issue of the disastrous consequences of stripping upland areas, saying that this has been known to the British government for decades. A study undertaken in Pontbren found that in reforested uplands rainwater ‘sinks into the soil under trees at 67 times the rate at which it sinks into the soil under grass’. He also pointed out that instead of encouraging farmers to protect such areas they are being paid to strip them and farm them, with inevitable consequences downstream.
Back in 2012 in defending cuts in flood defences a spokeswoman for Caroline Spelman, the environment secretary, said, ‘Labour left us with a massive debt problem, spending £120m every day (currently in excess of £143m every day) just paying the interest on the debt – very difficult decisions have had to be made regarding where to cut spending’. This is a grand use of spin, Mary Creagh, Labour’s shadow environment secretary warned, ‘ flooding is the biggest threat the country faces’. I am not sure I agree with her on that, your government is. However, to spin the banking crisis as Labours fault and therefore to pretty much put the blame for cuts in flood defences on Labour is just playing politics with people’s lives and is utterly despicable and unforgivable.
There is a further matter that needs addressing urgently. Plaid Cymru put in a Freedom Of Information request, ‘whether exemptions would apply to the policy of applying benefit sanctions against unemployed people who fail to attend Jobcentre appointments due to poor weather conditions (such as snow), or other unforeseen circumstances’. In response the ‘DWP confirmed that poor weather was not taken into account when deciding whether a benefit claimant should be sanctioned, but that the final decision is always left to the discretion of individual Jobcentre managers’.
The brutality of the DWP sanctions regime is now infamous and Jobcentre staff are under enormous pressure to sanction people as the Guardian reported, ‘a Jobcentre whistleblower alleged that the entire staff at one Jobcentre were threatened with disciplinary measures if they failed to get enough unemployed people off benefits, or referred sufficient numbers of them for benefit sanctions’. I wonder how long will it be before the reports start coming in that people who have lost their homes through flooding are also being deprived of any means of survival?