Large parts of the UK are currently underwater. Yorkshire, Lancashire, and Cumbria have been worst impacted by rivers bursting their banks and heavy rainfall. We are flooded (pun intended) with stories in the mainstream media about the stories of people’s whose homes have been washed out and ruined by the rising waters, however I believe that this is a perfect example of how the government’s actions are adversely affect people’s lives.
In 2011, as anti-austerity groups like UK Uncut have correctly been pointing out in the last few days, flood defences were cut by 8%. At the time the then coalition government defended itself from criticism by arguing that existing schemes under construction would be finished but that new schemes would be put on hold. Indeed then Environment Minister Richard Benyon said “it’s the nature of flood and coastal defence investment that there are always more projects than national budgets can afford at any one time”. Some of the flood defence and mitigation schemes put on hold were in York, Leeds, and Thirsk. All of these places are now partially underwater.
A report by the accounting firm KPMG, hardly a hotbed of leftism, has said that the cost of the flooding over the Christmas period has cost the economy could cost around £5.8 billion. The money saved by the cuts I mentioned earlier was only £95 million. I’m not saying that this investment would have stopped all the flooding but if this invested money only stopped £95 million of damage this would still be a net gain as peoples’ lives wouldn’t have been ruined. Anybody with a head on their shoulders can work out that £5.8 billion is a bigger number than £95 million and therefore it would be fair to say that cuts to flood defences are not “in the national interest” or “fiscally responsible”.
After the 2010 General Election ministers in the new Tory-Lib Dem Coalition government spouted the talking point such as “you can’t spend your way out of debt” and “there’s no money left on the credit card”. In relation to the idea that “you can’t spend your way out of debt”, not only isn’t this true of countries but this isn’t true of people either. If you have a job that pays £30,000 per year but the cost of buying and running a car is £10,000 enables you to get a job for £100,000 per year borrowing £10,000 to get the car makes financial sense.
In terms of nations and their credit cards, there are numerous examples of governments spending money in order to stimulate economic growth even though they were facing immediate financial problems. In the US, after the Wall Street Crash and the onset of the Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt the Public Works Administration was set up and from 1933 to 1935 this programme spent $3.3 billion (which in today’s money is between $48 billion and $1 trillion depending on how your methodology). As well as this huge investment in the economy, FDR criminalised child labour, thus forcing employers to employ more adults, and encouraged Congress to pass the Social Security Act which provided people with universal retirement pensions, unemployment insurance, and welfare benefits for the disabled and children in poverty.
In Britain, after WWII the Attlee Government nationalised the steel industry, created the National Health Service, and built over 1,000,000 new homes among other measures. This involved investing in the economy by using loans from the US under the Marshall Plan but the results of this were that, according to a book by Simon Lee and Matt Beach, the UK had near full employment from 1946 to 1951 and the country experience economic growth of 3% per year. I’m no economist but I’m pretty sure that WWII was quite expensive, and yet even when Britain was essentially bankrupt the national economy was transformed in order to both increase economic activity and raise living standards.
To conclude, cuts to flood defences were a manifestation of ideological decisions that are carried out under the guise of economic necessity. As a result of these ideological decisions people in the North of England and Scotland, which incidentally doesn’t vote for the Conservatives, are suffering. The only thing that we can take away from this decision is that the Tories will act ideologically even if it is economically harmful and ruins people’s lives. To be honest this probably didn’t need to be stated as many other government policies have shown this to be the case already, but this is the latest example of political vandalism by the Conservative Party.