River Don bursting its banks, November 8th, 2019. PhotoBy Andrew1829 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=83871763 River Don bursting its banks, November 8th, 2019. Photo by Andrew1829 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=83871763

The flooding of hundreds of Doncaster homes was probably caused in the first instance by climate change, but the devastation wreaked on families was avoidable, argues local resident John Westmoreland

Climate scientists agree that global warming has dramatically changed patterns of rainfall. Concentrated downpours over one area are increasingly likely, and the intense rainfall across Yorkshire over the past week is an example of just such an event. Water falling across the Pennines was channelled onto the flood plain below, where the ground was already saturated and flooding was inevitable. However the devastation of homes in Doncaster should have been avoided.

After the 2007 floods, which again hit Yorkshire and the North particularly hard, future Prime Minister David Cameron told the House of Commons, “Most people accept that, with climate change, [floods] are likely to be more frequent. “

However, in the first year of the Tory-Lib Dem coalition spending on flood defences was cut by 27 per cent, a fact that Boris Johnson is trying hard to cover up. When he visited Matlock in Derbyshire he was quick to offer a typical slew of statistics that were supposed to give the impression of a caring, one-nation Conservative. But the reality is that the Conservatives’ spending on flood protection for the current fiscal year is 10 per cent less than that for 2015.

In any case the crisis that has unfolded in Doncaster is about more than flood defences, it has revealed the devastation caused by Tory cuts to council funding, and emergency and welfare services.

Lani Mae Ball, a Labour councillor in Conisborough and Denaby, spoke of the utter inadequacy of existing provisions for this type of emergency.

“The floods hit us in the middle of the night with shocking force. Homes had water running through them and precious possessions, food, furniture and toys were washed away.

The effects on families is so cruel. We had bad floods in Bentley and Toll Bar in 2007 and since then insurance companies refused to insure homes against floods. So now we have people who have lost most of their possessions with no chance of getting them replaced or getting the flood damage repaired unless they go into debt.”

Lani took Jeremy Corbyn around some of the most affected areas.

“Jeremy’s visit gave people a platform. He didn’t do a speech or any grandstanding, he simply listened and showed that he understood people’s pain. He told them that the situation we are facing is a national emergency, and that he would do everything he could to make the Tories declare one.”

Lani has been part of setting up the Conisborough and Denaby crisis centre where people can bring food, clothes and other donations to help the victims.

“While our community has been fantastic at rallying round and getting support together we need to pay our heartfelt thanks to the workers who have backed us up. As from last Thursday all council staff have been on call 24/7. Despite the Tory cuts the council is throwing all we have into this crisis. Boris Johnson has to go beyond promises. We simply need money – a vast pot of money – to get peoples’ lives back together.”

Lani Mae Ball and Neil Carbutt, Doncaster, November 2019. Photo: John Westmoreland

Neil Carbutt, a Fire Brigades Union member and campaigner, also met Jeremy Corbyn. Fire fighters have played a crucial role in pumping water out of streets and rescuing people and their pets from life threatening situations.

Neil Carbutt and Jeremy Corbyn, Doncaster, November 2019. Photo: John Westmoreland

“I hope the voters can draw the right conclusions from what has happened in Doncaster. What this highlights is that instead of running down our emergency services we need investments.

Although we have coped so far in Doncaster we have been stretched, and we are thankful that we were not faced with acute fire hazards this week. I am also proud that our union has seen off the attempt to cut 84 firefighters in South Yorkshire. If we had been 84 fewer then lives could have been lost.

It also justifies what we have been arguing – that when workers in the emergency services are fighting for their job, they are at the same time fighting for the community.

We know floods are going to be more common and we know Doncaster can suffer again. In any crisis numbers are the key. We need more firefighters, more pumps, more dedicated training. And although Jeremy did not use his visit to Doncaster to score cheap points, I want to say that we desperately need a Corbyn government to end this cycle of cuts and crisis.

When he was Mayor of London Johnson shut 10 fire stations. Jeremy Corbyn has committed to giving us 3,000 more firefighters. Which choice should the people of Doncaster make?”

Doncaster is experiencing the appalling results of climate change and austerity.  These miserable experiences only underline the urgency of getting rid of the Tory government, that are complacent over the climate crisis and have driven through nine years of devastating cuts, and replacing them with a Corbyn government committed to a green new deal and investment in local services

John Westmoreland

John is a history teacher and UCU rep. He is an active member of the People's Assembly and writes regularly for Counterfire.