Flood-related damage already costs an average of £700m annually, and global temperature rises could see this bill go up by 20 per cent over the next century,
Eloise Sacares is a researcher at the Fabian Society
This January, flooding and storms have wreaked havoc across the UK. First, Storm Henk battered large parts of the country. More than 600 flood warnings and alerts were put in place and over 1800 homes were flooded. We then experienced two more named storms (Isha and Jocelyn) causing further chaos to transport and leaving thousands of homes without power.
Flood-related damage already costs an average of £700m annually, and global temperature rises could see this bill go up by 20 per cent over the next century, according to the BBC.
Flooding particularly impacts those on the lowest incomes, who face higher risks and tend to have a lower capacity to adapt. Flood protection is both socially progressive and makes economic sense. It is a matter of security, for our homes, health, and infrastructure.
But this government has left us completely unprepared. Instead of taking necessary action to prevent such impacts, it has been backsliding on its plans for flood protection.
They have removed 500 of the 2000 new flood defences originally promised in their flooding and coastal erosion risk management strategy. The Prime Minister may boast about the £5.2bn he’s committed to protect properties by 2027, but he fails to mention that the programme is now forecast to protect 40 per cent fewer properties than it originally committed to.
If Labour wins the election, they must act quickly to protect the most vulnerable from the worst impacts of flooding. In our recent Fabian Society report, ‘Whatever the Weather’, we propose a set of measures to ensure the UK prepares for extreme weather events such as flooding.
First, we must develop and maintain our flood defence infrastructure. Maintaining good quality flood defences is not just key for saving lives but makes economic sense – for every £1 increase in maintenance spending, almost £7 is saved in capital spending.
The government has been failing on defence maintenance – with 4,204 defences in a poor or very poor condition in 2022, according to an Unearthed investigation. Hundreds of these poorly maintained defences were in areas hit by the recent Storm Babet which killed seven people and affected over a thousand homes. We propose the next government develop an immediate new strategy for investing in the development and maintenance of flood defences.
Second, we must protect the most vulnerable from the health impacts of flooding. One particularly at-risk group are those who are sleeping rough. Councils have the power to provide temporary shelter for homeless people in times of extreme weather: this is called the severe weather emergency protocol or ‘SWEP’.
However, there is no legal requirement for local authorities to activate this power, and a 2021 investigation found that no councils were found to offer SWEP for extreme rain or flash flooding. Making SWEP activation mandatory for councils if a severe flood warning is issued could help save lives among the most vulnerable in our population.
However, local government is in the grip of a funding crisis and the availability of temporary accommodation is scarce. That’s why government must be required to collaborate with councils and provide resources to help them provide SWEP.
Finally, the strategy must ensure that we are all able to protect our homes from the worst impacts from flooding. Social and private renters do not own their homes, so they are often unable to improve their property’s climate resilience, because this can require significant alterations.
Labour should tackle this issue by implementing a duty on landlords, to ensure their properties meet a specified grade of climate resilience certification – similar to the requirement for rented properties to meet the Energy Performance Certificate E standard (or higher) for energy efficiency.
They must also develop a retrofit strategy that covers adaptation to flooding, heat, and drought alongside measures for energy efficiency and decarbonisation, and prioritises social homes.
Together, these measures can help prevent flooding from damaging homes, thereby saving money, and protecting people’s health.
People across the country shouldn’t have to live in fear of their lives being upended, their businesses wrecked, or their farms flooded, because this government has failed to provide adequate protection.
A Labour government must show that they will do things differently – that they will step up on flood protection to save money and save lives. They must show that, whatever the weather, they won’t leave people at the mercy of increasingly extreme weather.