As the floods in Britain continue to worsen, with the first damage estimate putting insurance claims for the Thames valley alone at around a forecast one billion pounds or more, the much-vaunted patience and perseverance of the British is being sorely tested.
The blame game is now raging, with it seems no minister or department safe from withering criticism, either on how this was allowed to happen, or why the response has been so slow.
Flood Warden Sue Burrows had plenty to say to Defence Minister Philip Hammond when he visited Wraysbury in Berkshire.
“There is not one Environment Agency officer here, they’re in an office,” she fumed. “They need to be here, they have no idea. We have been working for 48 hours evacuating people, risking our own lives, going into waters that would be over my head.”
While Hammond was having his ears burned in the stockbroker belt, Prime Minister David Cameron was in Dawlish in Devon where high tides and stormy seas destroyed a large section of sea wall, washing a stretch of railway track into the sea. .
“Well, it is a huge challenge, I mean we have had the wettest start to the year for 250 years and some of the most extreme weather we have seen in our country for decades and you can see just the effect that it has had. We have to recognise it is going to take time before we get things back to normal,” Cameron said.
This a potential political disaster for the government, and one that is not going away any time soon.
If it stopped raining right now, which it is not going to do, it would be many weeks before water levels dropped, as the ground is so saturated.
Insurance premium warning
Insurers may raise premiums if storms continue to batter Britain in the coming weeks, a senior insurance executive warned.
Around 5,000 homes in the UK have been flooded, with some remaining under water for more than a month.
For now, insurers say they are not experiencing unusual volumes of claims for the time of year and losses are still far short of the three billion pounds (3.6 billion euros) paid out after summer floods in 2007.
Specialists at PwC and Deloitte estimate insured losses could be around 500 million pounds (602 million euros).
However with no end in sight to the wet weather, Steve Langan, Managing Director of Hiscox UK and Europe, warned premiums may have to rise as losses from claims mount.
“In the medium term we wouldn’t expect the current UK floods to have an impact on premiums. However if this adverse weather continues into mid-February and mid-March, and we start talking about a one billion pounds (1.2 billion euros) impact, then it will change the point of pricing,” he said.
Insurers say much of the flooding is currently in low-lying areas already well known to be at risk and they have set their pricing models accordingly.
However they could face larger claims now flood waters have reached the south-western suburbs of London which are on the banks of the swollen River Thames and home to some of Britain’s most expensive property, analysts warn.