By Anne-Marie O’Donnell
Prime Minister David Cameron has pledged to spend however much money is necessary in the relief effort for the flood-hit south of England as extreme weather continues.
Speaking at a press conference in Downing Street, Mr Cameron warned that the situation could get worse before it gets better but insisted the UK Government would take all steps necessary to help those struggling, adding that the UK is a “wealthy country”.
“Money is no object in this relief effort,” Mr Cameron said. “Whatever money is needed we will spend it. Nothing is more important than dealing with these floods.”
Mr Cameron made the pledge to throw a limitless supply of cash at the problem following criticism of the government’s slow response to the crisis. England has struggled with flooding problems in recent years and insurers estimate that one in four households in England is at risk of flooding.
It’s estimated that Scottish households already pay £430 per year towards the flooding costs south of the border, despite only around one in 20 homes likely to be flooded in Scotland, and it’s unclear how much the latest relief effort is likely to cost.
Among the measures Mr Cameron announced at the conference were a commitment to make more military personnel available to help in addition to the 1,600 already deployed; grants to help homeowners repair properties; a tax break for affected business; and up to £10m to help farmers recover.
The response to the floods – which have hit more than 5,000 homes in the past two months – has been marred by political bickering. The Environment Agency was criticised by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles, who suggested its boss should consider his position due to “misjudgements” in its handling of the floods.
The comments prompted an angry reaction from Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, who complained about the spat to the Prime Minister. Meanwhile, Environment Agency Chairman Lord Smith accused defence secretary Philip Hammond of not doing enough to help those affected.
On Monday, Labour leader Ed Miliband said the Prime Minister must “get a grip” of the crisis and urged the government to prioritise flood defences.
“It is a disgrace that you have got government ministers pointing the finger of blame at each other when they should be rolling their sleeves up and helping those affected,” Mr Miliband said.
There are currently 16 severe flood warnings in place and the Environment Agency has issued around 350 less serious alerts across the south of England and the midlands. There are concerns that groundwater levels have become so high that flooding could persist for weeks or even months in some areas.
To add further pressure to the fragile situation, the Met Office has issued severe weather warnings covering most of the UK for Wednesday with a forecast for strong winds, snow and more rain.