Rhondda Cynon Taf must brace for cost of living and cost of flooding
Henry Barnes, British Red Cross Emergency Response Operations Manager, Wales
This winter, it is likely that it will rain, rain hard, and that some parts of the UK will flood. The people of Rhondda Cynon Taf know all too well the devastation flooding can bring. The damage and disruption to their lives caused by Storm Dennis is fresh in their memories.
The Met Office has warned that the UK could experience serious flooding this February. If these warnings are realised, it couldn’t come at a worse time. We know how households across Wales are already struggling with the cost-of-living crisis. Unfortunately, this crisis is unlikely to resolve itself any time soon.
If there’s one thing families facing the soaring cost of living don’t need, its water coming in through the front door, or rising through the floor, contaminating or destroying everything it touches.
Flood water is the worst and most unwelcome guest. It trashes people’s lives and homes, disrupts education and jobs, and leaves people reeling from the financial and mental health impact.
Right now, with people budgeting down to their last penny, any additional crisis brought by extreme weather will be even harder to bear. There are multiple costs involved in recovering from floods. It’s expensive cleaning up a home, repairing what you can and replacing what you can’t. At a time when people’s financial resilience is already being stretched, a serious flood could tip some over the edge into poverty and hardship.
The situation is worse for those people with a high ‘social flood risk.’ If you’re on a low income, dealing with poor health or housing, the impact of a serious flood can be significantly worse. For people already struggling to cover the cost of essentials like heating and food, the additional cost of drying out a damp home or replacing belongings could be devastating.
Unfortunately, Rhondda Cynon Taf faces the highest social flood risk of any local authority across in UK. This risk is only going to increase in future decades due to climate change. Our new report Everytime it rains discusses the urgent steps needed if the UK is to be better prepared for flooding.
Nowhere are they more relevant than in RCT.
To help us produce our report, we held focus groups in Rhondda Cynon Taf with people who had experienced flooding during Storm Dennis. They told us how important it is to have insurance that covers flood damage. Those who had insurance highlighted how it had made the difficult process of recovering from flooding much easier than it otherwise would have been. Those who didn’t have insurance found rebuilding their lives and homes after flooding much more difficult and expensive.
Insurance is an important part of flood recovery, but cost of living pressures mean for some this isn’t an option. Our polling shows that 9% of adults in the area don’t have buildings or contents insurance, whilst almost half don’t know whether their policy covers flood damage. Across the UK, over half of those without insurance said affordability was a major factor.
I fear the cost-of-living crisis will mean fewer people in areas like RCT will have insurance by the time we get to February. This could leave them exposed to greater disruption and financial hardship if they are hit by flooding.
As well as the financial cost, floods have an emotional and mental health impact. This aspect can be underestimated by those who haven’t experienced flooding. Those who have experienced a serious flood often know the heartbreak of losing family photo albums or other cherished possessions. They’ve learnt the hard way to keep documents and sentimental items well protected, out of reach of flood water.
We know floods will come, and our poll shows two thirds of people now accept that climate change will make them worse. It’s also clear financial pressures will make some people more vulnerable, and worse equipped to recover. So, what can we do about it?
For a start, we can make sure everyone gets the information they need, so they can prepare. We can listen to communities who have experienced serious floods before and learn from them. We hope the rest of the UK can learn from Rhondda Cynon Taf’s strong community spirit in the wake of Storm Dennis. Having a community that can come together, lend each other a helping hand and recover from a flood as a community makes all the difference.
We can also make sure people can get hold of financial support they need after a flood, to cover immediate essentials and the costs of the clear-up and to rebuild their lives. We can focus on supporting those communities most at risk to prepare and build resilience to help prevent extreme weather emergencies becoming personal disasters.
Imagine the difference if, in a year’s time, all of us knew our flood risk. If we all knew where to get information, alerts, and had a plan for what to do. Imagine if local authorities and governments felt confident their plans were up-to-date and were regularly reviewed to include new data. Imagine if local government and agencies had roots into local communities to exchange information and build resilience.
If flooding does arrive this winter, our Red Cross volunteers will stand ready to help affected communities and ensure people’s needs are met. But we’d rather make sure communities are as prepared as possible for floods to minimise suffering and hardship. All of us, including government at all levels, have a role in making sure this happens.
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