As winter descends upon us, is your community prepared for devastating storms and floods?

FrankWatt_400x400This post was contributed by Frank Watt, a part-time PhD student in Birkbeck’s Department of Organizational Psychology. He retired from his job as an Assistant Chief Officer for Derbyshire Fire and Rescue Service in 2008. Frank is now a consultant specialising in coaching and re-energising stalled projects.

The media coverage of the flooding in the Somerset Levels in late 2013 and early 2014 brought the water, heartache and misery into all of our homes.

Comments about the handling of the emergency had a common theme that appeared to follow a well-beaten path to the Government’s doorstep: “they should have done more.”

More what? More dredging? Expert engineers state that dredging  would not have solved the problem and is more of a red herring that flood victims  have latched onto. More pumps? Emergency services would ask: “And pump it where?” Excess water was already being pumped into the River Parrot . More funding? And do exactly what with the funding? Probably throw it all on flood defences, and, yes, that’s what they have done. Danny Alexander, chief secretary to the Treasury, recently announced £2.3bn investment in 1,400 flood defence projects. Engineered solutions can help, but are a short-term solution to a longer-term problem.

What about less? Less incentives to cultivate land that holds vast amounts of water in check,  less building on land that was originally a marsh and less reliance on agencies and services that are stretched to cope with the on-going emergency.

Whilst the Somerset Levels may be seen as an extreme example of flooding in the UK, it is not uncommon. A flooding timeline over the past 10 years shows extreme flooding in many parts of Britain but not consistently in the same place year on year.

The Met Office weather map comparing the 2013 and 2014 rainfall shows a marked difference in location for the heaviest downpours.

So where does that leave policy makers and planners? The Environment Agency has many large projects, some already underway, to try and deal with the deluge of water produced by constant rain falling on water logged ground and an urban environment that was not designed to cope with the current levels of surface water.

Perhaps part of the solution is localised planning together with mobilising of national resources to carry out some preventative measures. But is it all up to the professionals or can local communities get together to assist the professionals? Better still, can local communities get together and prepare before the flooding has a chance to affect their properties?

A typical scenario might be: it’s been raining all night and the weather forecast predicts a storm is approaching that might last for hours. What are your initial thoughts?

Will you focus on self-preservation or just sit tight and hope everything will turn out all right? You could offer help to someone more vulnerable, or would you feel vulnerable and seek assistance from someone nearby? Perhaps you might check to see if your neighbours need assistance or even phone around to see what everyone else is doing?

I suppose what you believe you might do depends upon many factors such as experience of similar events, the risk of something actually affecting you or your property or having people around you that might get together and do something to reduce the effect of the emergency.

Much of the previous disaster research focuses on response during an emergency or the aftermath, whether that is professional emergency managers or organised groups of volunteers or residents.

Before we can ponder about the effectiveness of residents actively engaged in preparing their community for a weather-related emergency, one might want to ask the question: “Do they want to be engaged”? There appears to be an assumption at national policy level that all communities will engage with local emergency planners to undertake risk-based preparedness measures, but what if they don’t want to be engaged and view preparation for extreme weather to be the responsibility of an agency or government department?

Local emergency planning departments offer a range of support mechanisms from information to assisting in communities getting involved. There are a number of other agencies that provide information and volunteer assistance, such as the National Flood Forum, a registered charity that does some great work with communities and flood victims.

Having been engaged in research on this topic for the past six years I believe it would be useful to know if residents believe that their communities can undertake preparedness activities. Not only that but the very enquiry as to what they believe may spark something in them to find out more and get engaged with protecting their community. If you want to find out more about my research and take part in the survey please visit my web page, www.fwatt.co.uk. Keep dry and be safe!

Share
. Reply . Category: Business Economics and Informatics . Tags: , , ,

The lessons of Clacton and Heywood: why UKIP will damage the Tories in 2015 but may ultimately harm Labour

EricKaufmann400This article was contributed by Eric Kaufmann, Professor of Politics at Birkbeck’s Department of Politics.

National attention focused on the Clacton and Heywood and Middleton byelections because UKIP support rose substantially in both contests over its level in 2010. The media and some commentators have spun the story as a tale of dispossessed voters from forgotten constituencies striking a blow against the political elite. On this view, both the main parties will suffer at the hands of the Faragists.

Yet the data does not support the contention that the economically and politically disadvantaged of all political stripes are in revolt. Instead, the by-elections, and the rise of UKIP more broadly, reflects cultural anxieties and status resentments which loom largest among middle income people who lack degrees. UKIP damages the Conservatives more than other parties and is set to tilt the electoral terrain in Labour’s favour in 2015 and beyond. This means we need to entertain the possibility the Tories may enter the political wilderness, much as the Canadian Tories did between 1993 and 2006 when the populist Reform Party split the right-wing vote.

In Clacton, Douglas Carswell, a high-profile defector from the Tories, carried the seat easily, winning 60% of the vote in a constituency UKIP did not contest in 2010. Popular in Clacton, Carswell carried wide support across a range of social and voter groups. In Heywood and Middleton, UKIP candidate John Bickley won 39%, increasing UKIP’s share by a whopping 36 points over 2010. It was an impressive UKIP tally, but the seat was held by Labour, winning 41% of the poll. Here we have two strong UKIP performances, resulting in a Tory loss in one instance, and a Labour win, albeit narrow, in the other. The constituencies are not typical of the country, but the results are indicative of what may happen in 2015. Why?

First, consider that in both by-elections, Ashcroft polls show the Tories lost a larger share of their vote to UKIP than Labour. These results are corroborated in the admittedly small sample of some 70 British Election Study (BES) internet panel respondents from these seats interviewed in early and mid-2014 about their 2015 voting intentions.

The British Election Study provides data on over 34,000 people, interviewed in both early and mid 2014. Looking at the second wave reveals a stunning pattern: 47 percent of those who voted UKIP in the 2014 European elections said they voted Tory in 2010 compared to just 13 percent from Labour. When it comes to intended vote in the General Election, it’s much the same story: 44 percent of those intending to support UKIP are ex-Tories while just 10 percent said they voted in Labour in 2010.

Kaufmann image

In terms of current party identification, while 38 percent of those intending to vote UKIP in 2015 identify their party as UKIP, 24 percent say they identify as Conservative, compared to just 10 percent of UKIP vote intenders who currently identify with the Labour party. These data rely on respondents reported retrospective vote. However, the Understanding Society longitudinal survey just compares what people said in the previous wave with what they say in the current wave. These actual results, between 2009 and 2012, confirm the self-reported results from the BES: between 2 and 5 times as many people switched allegiance from Conservative to UKIP as moved from Labour to UKIP.

Some suggest Tory defections are in safe Conservative constituencies where they are unlikely to affect the Cameron-Miliband contest. Unfortunately for the Prime Minister, there is no evidence for this. The figure below shows the predicted probability that an individual in the BES will vote UKIP in 2015, on the vertical axis, against the Labour share of the vote in his or her constituency in 2010, on the horizontal. The blue line represents those who voted Tory in 2010, the red line those who voted for parties other than the Conservatives in 2010. This is a multivariate model where we also control for a host of other predictors of UKIP voting, such as age, education, ethnicity and so forth. The cross-hatch lines represent confidence intervals, which are longer at the extremes of Labour share because sample sizes are smaller there.

Kaufmann fig 3

Two things jump out of this chart. First, UKIP will hit the Tories harder than other parties by 6-8 points across all types of constituency. There is no reluctance among 2010 Tory voters to desert the party for UKIP in marginal seats. Nor are UKIP defectors concentrated among Tory voters in Labour strongholds. Where votes averaged 30% Labour in 2010, often indicating a tight contest, a 2010 Conservative voter has a 21 percent chance of voting UKIP, which falls to just 15 percent among their Labour counterparts. UKIP support is holding steady in the polls, and if this continues, UKIP will pose a threat to Cameron.

Instead of fixating on the Clactons and Heywoods where UKIP is strong, pundits should focus on marginals where even a small shift to UKIP could tilt things Miliband’s way. We could see upsets not only in UKIP strongholds like Thurrock, but in middle class spots such as Cambridge or Hendon, often in  the South of England, where Miliband may pull off an upset. The plot below shows seats the Tories won in 2010 with less than a six percent margin over Labour. These, and more, may be vulnerable.

kaufmann fig 4

If UKIP hands victory to Labour, this raises a whole series of important questions. Can the Conservatives strike a deal with UKIP, as with the ‘unite the right’ initiative between the populist Reform party and more elite Progressive Conservatives in Canada?  Should Labour rejoice, or should they look to the reinvigorated Canadian Conservatives as a warning that the rise of the populist right can shift a nation’s political culture against them in the long run? Matthew Goodwin and Rob Ford’s excellent book on UKIP warns that the party, with its working-class support base, threatens Labour as well as the Tories. My work suggests working-class Tories rather than Labour traditionalists are most likely to defect to UKIP, but their overall point holds: this is not a movement Labour can afford to ignore.

Share
. Reply . Category: Social Sciences History and Philosophy . Tags: , , , , ,

Birkbeck’s School of Law contributes to consultation on policing and HIV

MatthewWeait_400x400This article was contributed by Matthew Weait, Professor of Law and Policy at Birkbeck’s School of Law.

There is robust empirical evidence indicating that traditional approaches to policing can result in adverse health outcomes for those who are at particular risk of harm.  In particular, a focus on their law and order function, a narrow view of what constitutes public safety, and a conservative occupational culture has meant that in many parts of the world the police have contributed to an enhanced risk of HIV infection among so called “key populations”, including sex workers and injecting drug users.  There is, for example, evidence that police may use the possession of condoms – an effective barrier against infection – as evidence to support an allegation of prostitution, and the possession of syringes as evidence to justify the arrest of drug users.  The consequence of this is that sex workers wishing to avoid harassment and arrest may not carry condoms with them, thereby reducing the opportunity to practise safer sex, and drug users avoid carrying their own “works”, thereby increasing the possibility that they will share those of others and so increase their risk of infection with HIV and other blood-borne diseases.

These negative effects of traditional policing are increasingly recognised, and efforts are being made to address them.  An important milestone was reached this month at a Consultation on Policing and HIV in Amsterdam, convened by the Centre for Law Enforcement and Public Health (CLEPH) and supported by the Law Enforcement and HIV Network (LEAHN), the International Development Law Organisation (IDLO) and the School of Law at Birkbeck.

I attended the international consultation along with more than 100  senior police officers, representatives of key populations, policy makers and academics.  After a day of discussion and deliberation, the attendees agreed the Amsterdam Declaration on Police Partnerships for Harm Reduction, an important document that commits its supporters to an approach to policing key populations that is informed by the principles of harm reduction and which will promote rather than hinder health through active collaboration and partnership.

I am delighted that the School of Law has been involved in this significant international development. I had the privilege of working with some extraordinarily enlightened police officers from all across the world, each of whom realises the importance of working with those at heightened risk of acquiring HIV in reducing that risk.  There was an incredible energy in the room, and a real willingness to make progress. The School of Law at Birkbeck has an internationally recognised reputation for research and scholarship that can contribute to progressive legal change, and it was a privilege to showcase this and to put the School’s principles into practice.

Professor Weait, of Birkbeck's School of Law, chaired a panel at the Consultation on HIV and Policing in Amsterdam, with (left to right) Annette Verster, World Health Organization; Pye Jakobsson, Global Network of Sex Worker Projects; Marja Lust, Amsterdam Police; Julian Hows, Global Network of People Living with HIV; Dr Zhannat Kosmukhamedova, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime; Dr Sanjay Patil, Open Society Foundations

Professor Weait, of Birkbeck’s School of Law, chaired a panel at the Consultation on HIV and Policing in Amsterdam, with (left to right) Annette Verster, World Health Organization; Pye Jakobsson, Global Network of Sex Worker Projects; Marja Lust, Amsterdam Police; Julian Hows, Global Network of People Living with HIV; Dr Zhannat Kosmukhamedova, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime; Dr Sanjay Patil, Open Society Foundations

Share
. 1 comment . Category: Law . Tags: , , ,

European poll shows democracy still needs a bit of work

Professor Daniele Archibugi, of Birkbeck's Department of ManagementThis article was contributed by Professor Daniele Archibugi, of Birkbeck’s Department of Management. It was originally published on The Conversation

Every year, the UN celebrates its International Day of Democracy, even if it often feels like there is little to smile about on this front. Research to be presented at the Italian parliament to mark the occasion shows that while Europeans across the continent share a powerful faith in democracy, they think their countries are lacking some of its most fundamental components.

The research, carried out by the European Social Survey is an attempt to quantify the difference between Democratic ideals and reality.

The results confirm that the overwhelming majority of Europeans share the democratic faith. In most countries, citizens strongly believe that they should be governed by elected representatives. In countries like Cyprus, Sweden, Germany and Israel, respondents rated the importance of living in a democratic country as a nine or above on a scale of zero to ten. And in almost every other country in a survey of 29 – including 21 EU member states – it was rated at least seven or above.

But Europe is vast and brings together a huge array of nations and cultures. It seems we can’t be sure that the word democracy means the same thing to them all.

Digging inside the ballot box, the survey reveals that in northern Europe, there is a greater focus on the rule of law, while in southern countries there is a stronger desire to obtain social justice. Scandinavians fall somewhere in the middle.

Eastern Europeans appear to be something of a special case. Citizens in many former soviet states only got the right to vote in proper elections around a quarter of a century ago and continue to expect the social protection that was once guaranteed by the old communist regimes while also demanding that the rule of law is enforced. Russian respondents attached the least importance to being run by a democratic government.

The basic definition of democracy is what is known as liberal democracy. This is a government chosen in free and competitive elections, with checks and balances in place and a free media and opposition in operation. Liberal democracy was considered to be operating in only around half of the 29 countries surveyed.

People in eastern European nations do not believe their countries hold free and fair elections and they do not consider their media free. And in southern Europe, citizens feel they lack equality before the law.

Asked about the social components of democracy – such as income equality and protection from poverty – citizens gave a harsh assessment. In 26 of the 29 countries, this side of democracy was considered insufficient.

In Scandinavia the gap between what people expect from democracy and what they think is actually delivered is smaller than in any other country. But even in these countries, there is the clear perception that the social dimension of democracy lags behind the liberal.

The political class should take this survey very seriously. It shows that the public has an increasingly broad idea of what it is to be a democracy but also that they are well informed. When expectations are not met, substantial resentment can build and that is reflected at the ballot box. Voters either back new entrants to the political sphere – like UKIP – or they stay at home on polling day.

An increasingly qualified and demanding public can’t simply be administered from above. New forms of participation need to be invented. If people are asked to participate in the delivery of public goods – through direct democracy and social involvement – they will have the opportunity to improve what is provided by elected representatives only. Or, at least, they will realise that everyone should implement their own dreams, democratic dreams included.

Share
. 1 comment . Category: Business Economics and Informatics . Tags: , ,

Paisley’s life testament to a deeply painful social history in Northern Ireland

Dr Sean BradyThis article was contributed by Dr Sean Brady, of Birkbeck’s Department of History, Classics and Archaeology. It was originally published on The Conversation.

The death of the Reverend Ian Paisley is occasion for reflection upon the United Kingdom’s most famous religious firebrand, and certainly one of the most memorable and divisive political figures of modern times.

He will rightly be remembered for his hardline and extreme unionist stance throughout his political and religious career, for his extreme brand of Loyalism and premillenial Protestantism, which informed all of his political career – and also for the mystery of why, in 2006, he agreed to power sharing in Northern Ireland, given his rejection of the Belfast Peace Agreement in 1998.

But Paisley’s life was testament to a deeply painful social history. Northern Ireland’s society and politics have been synonymous with deep and bitter religiously orientated sectarianism, violence, conflict, militarism, and seemingly intractable community schisms since the late 1960s. And for much of that time, Paisley was one of the most vocal and most recognisable forces behind its continued division.

And yet the seemly intractable oppositions within Northern Ireland appeared to come together in remarkable unanimity on one particular issue, which Paisley almost made his own: the question of male homosexuality, and of sexual minorities in general.

No, no, no!

The Northern Irish parliament stoutly resisted any attempt to impose the Sexual Offences Act of 1967, which had partially decriminalised male homosexuality in England and Wales. Even after the imposition of direct rule and the ending of devolved government in 1972, opposition to any attempt by the Northern Ireland Office to introduce this legislation was voluble and intense.

A high-profile case brought to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), Dudgeon v United Kingdom, eventually forced the United Kingdom government to impose the partial decriminalisation of male homosexuality in Northern Ireland in 1982. Indeed, it was a landmark case at the ECHR itself. It was the court’s first case to be decided in favour of LGBT rights, and it now forms the basis in European law for all member states, in particular new states joining the EU.

Opposition to decriminalising male homosexuality appealed to many across the sectarian divide, but the real impetus to keep gay sex criminal came from the evangelically inspired and highly popular “Save Ulster from Sodomy!” campaign, headed by Paisley, Peter Robinson and the Democratic Unionist Party in the 1970s and the 1980s and targeted at lesbians and gay men.

Out of Ireland

In Paisley’s worldview, Ulster, the hallowed province, had to be made fit for the second coming of Christ, and therefore needed “saving” from sodomy. In a society riven by male-dominated violence and religious conflict, LGBT people would at the very least be wary about exploring their sexuality, and certainly emotions of guilt shaped and directed their lives. And for most Irish LGBT people, the only way to lead normal lives has long been to leave Northern Ireland.

It’s remarkable to recall the extent to which the Roman Catholic hierarchy gave its tacit support to this campaign, and the ways in which paramilitary organisations on both sides of the conflict came to view LGBT people as “natural betrayers” in their midst. More than anything else, religion and sectarianism shaped the lives of LGBT people in Northern Ireland until the peace process of the late 1990s.

And yet still, Paisley’s legacy of continuing homophobia in Northern Ireland is palpable to this day. Unlike the rest of the United Kingdom, the DUP-dominated Stormont parliament has vetoed the gay marriage bill multiple times; evangelically motivated politicians of all stripes feel free to make outright homophobic comments on a regular basis.

Northern Ireland’s society is also unique in Western Europe in the intensity and the extent of its homophobic attitudes. In a huge research project into bigotry in Western countries conducted in 2007, Northern Ireland was the most homophobic of 23 territories surveyed, topping the list along with Greece.

Paisley’s legacy for the Northern Irish sectarian conflict is hugely complicated in itself – but his broader impact on Northern Ireland’s society also endures.

Share
. Reply . Category: Social Sciences History and Philosophy . Tags: , , ,

On FA Cup final day, homophobia is still a problem for English football

This post was written by Dr Andy Harvey – a Researcher at the Birkbeck Sport Business Centre. His PhD thesis was on the history of homophobia in sport. A monograph derived from his thesis, Boys will be boys? An interdisciplinary study of male sexuality and homophobia in football fiction, is due to be published by Fisher Imprints in 2015.

Dr Andy Harvey is a Researcher at the Birkbeck Sports Business Centre

Dr Andy Harvey is a Researcher at the Birkbeck Sports Business Centre

As millions of people across the globe switch on their televisions to watch the FA Cup final on Saturday 17 May, the match happens to coincide with the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT) that is marked on 17 May every year. Celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, IDAHOT is a worldwide campaign that aims to bring attention to the problem of homophobia and transphobia that persists across the world.

No British sport has been associated with homophobic attitudes as much as football. A recent Channel 4 Dispatches programme, Undercover: Hate on the Terraces, broadcast on 3 March 2014, reinforced the idea that English football remains a potent site of discriminatory chanting by significant numbers of fans. The documentary showed how such chanting was often carried out in full view and earshot of stewards and police with little action taken by them or the football authorities. The programme confirmed a 2013 study by the Gay Football Supporters Network (GFSN) that showed how Brighton fans were the target of regular and persistent homophobic abuse from opposition supporters. The perpetrators of abuse have not been confined to fans: in April 2014 former Blackburn Rovers player, Colin Kazim-Richards, was found guilty of making an “utterly disgusting” homophobic gesture at Brighton and Hove Albion fans.

From the playing side of the professional game, it is now commonplace to mention that no professional footballer has ‘come out’ as gay while still playing in the English game. The fate of Justin Fashanu, who committed suicide after declaring his homosexuality in 1990 to a barrage of homophobia from the media, has acted as a warning to other gay professionals not to follow in his footsteps. In February 2013 the former Leeds United player, Robbie Rogers, ‘came out’ as gay in the same breath as announcing his retirement from professional football because he could not conceive of continuing to play due to the homophobic atmosphere of the dressing room and terraces. Earlier this year former German international and Premier League star, Thomas Hitzlsperger, announced he was gay after he had retired from the game, although the positive public reception he received stands in stark contrast to Fashanu’s experience.

A famous victim of football’s inability to accept sexual diversity was Chelsea and England defender, Graeme Le Saux, who, although known to be heterosexual, became the target of homophobic abuse during his playing career in the 1990s. Le Saux’s case graphically illustrates one of the little-mentioned aspects of homophobic behaviours: the vast bulk of homophobic abuse is aimed at straight men. No-one actually believes that Brighton fans are gay (although, as with any other club, some of them may be), or that a player who falls down rather easily is ‘a poof’. Opposing fans sing ‘does your boyfriend know you’re here?’ in order to call into question the gender credentials of the opposition supporters as a means of reinforcing their own ideas of a masculine heterosexuality. In other words, homophobic ‘banter’, whether perpetrated on the terraces or in the dressing room, acts as a mechanism for policing straight men’s sexuality.

In contrast to racist abuse where no-one would think of calling a white person by the ‘n’ word, homophobia relies on the assumption that being thought of as gay is a culturally demeaned identity that needs to be constantly repudiated at all times. The argument that homophobia is ‘like’ racism may be useful tactically to promote the importance of tackling homophobia. However, it is not the case that homophobia is ‘like’ racism since it works in very different ways.

The fact that straight men experience the negative consequences of homophobia should not in any way be taken to mean that gay men do not suffer from homophobia. The tragic consequence of the cultural regime that devalues gay lives is that homophobia is not confined to the football arena but is present in every city, town and community in the country. Homophobic attacks are a more violent means by which some men (it is usually, although not invariably, men who are the perpetrators) shore up their own narrow notions of their heterosexuality, or even attempt to deny their homosexuality. From personal testimony, I have had two acquaintances murdered in violent homophobic attacks and many LGB&T people still lead lives that are saturated in fear and anxiety due to their experience of persistent homophobia. This is what sets homophobic abuse apart from the other ‘banter’ of football: homophobia has disastrous impacts well beyond the football terraces.

Understanding that homophobia is steeped in the culturally demeaned status of sexual minorities is crucial if effective strategies to tackle it are to be developed. To do so successfully will mean challenging the notion that football is a ‘man’s game’ with all the gendered and cultural freight that is loaded on to that term. The work that the FA has commenced in opening up participation in the game will be crucial in this endeavour. Despite worrying levels of discrimination that still persist in Britain, there is evidence that, in some places, homophobic attitudes may be receding: after all we now live in a country where there are openly gay Conservative members of the government. Football has the potential to make a significant contribution to the shift against homophobia. The task is to work on the cultural regime of football in order to end forever the idea some forms of masculinity are superior to others or that football can only be played by a certain type of ‘man’.

A longer, and fully referenced, version of this article can be found on the Birkbeck Sports Business Centre web site.

Share
. Reply . Category: Business Economics and Informatics . Tags: , , ,

After the flood: finding ways to insure the uninsurable without breaking the bank

This post was contributed by Dr Diane Horn of Birkbeck’s Department of Geography, Environment and Development Studies. It originally appeared on The Conversation.

More wet and windy weather arrives week after week, with the inundated areas of the south and southwest of Britain still at the mercy of the elements. Even while politicians begin the blame game, we should look further ahead to when the floodwaters recede, the clean-up begins – and talk turns to who will pay.

In most countries, the government plays a role in covering flood losses. The UK is unusual because the government does not award compensation directly to individuals. Money is provided to local authorities through the Bellwin Scheme to reimburse the costs of emergency measures taken to safeguard life or property. But this is only intended to cover uninsurable risk.

Damage to private property is considered insurable and is not covered, which means compensation is drawn from the insurance industry, or charitable aid. The Prince’s Countryside Fund and the Duke of Westminster were among the first to make donations to help the flood victims, donating £50,000 each. As the floods continue, other businesses have pledged support. The government has also announced new measures, including a£5,000 grant to households and businesses to pay for repairs which improve a property’s ability to withstand future flooding. But most of those with property underwater will have to rely on insurance.

Unchartered waters

Big changes have swept through Britain’s flood insurance landscape. Until last July, flood insurance cover was available to households and small businesses as a standard feature of buildings and contents insurance under the Statement of Principles. Under this agreement, members of the Association of British Insurers (ABI) agreed to cover properties at risk of flooding in return for government commitment to manage flood risk.

Following extensive negotiations a new flood insurance scheme,Flood Re, was announced last June. This establishes a stand-alone, industry-run, not-for-profit insurance fund due to begin in 2015. Flood Re will provide cover for about 500,000 properties deemed at risk by the Environment Agency that might otherwise be uninsurable, or whose premiums are unaffordable. But the limitations of the Flood Re scheme need to be recognised.

While ABI members will continue to meet their commitments to existing customers, there’s no guarantee prices won’t rise between now and the implementation of Flood Re. In fact stories are already emerging about dramatic premium hikes, and the expectation is that these will rise further.

Policy recommendations

The government needs to take responsibility in the event of a catastrophic flood, but Flood Re’s liability will be capped at an expected limit of about £2.5 billion per year, equivalent to a 1:200 year flood loss scenario. As to who will bear the costs beyond this, the government has made no commitment. But this is a question that needs an answer. PricewaterhouseCoopers have estimated the insurance losses for December and January at £630 million, and while it’s too early to count the costs of the current floods, insurance industry forecasts suggest losses could reach £1 billion if the rains continue.

What is also needed from the government and insurers are incentives to reduce flood risk. Planning controls need to restrict development in flood risk areas, set higher standards for buildings on floodplains, and require that the best techniques to improve resilience against flooding are used when rebuilding and refitting after flood damage. As we argued in a paper published inNature Climate Change, using the flood insurance market to drive better adaptation to flood risk and the effects of climate change needs to be part of a wider strategy that includes land-use planning, building regulations and water management.

The Flood Re scheme needs to be clear whose insurance it will subsidise, and the effects on those not insured under the scheme. In fact many properties at risk will be excluded from the scheme. When Flood Re was first proposed, three categories of property owners were excluded from participation: small businesses, properties built after 1 January 2009, and properties in the highest council tax band.

It has since emerged that Flood Re will exclude many more properties than originally thought, with any policy classed as “non-domestic” unable to participate in the scheme, regardless of the risk. This will include housing association and council properties, many leasehold or private rented sector properties where homes are not insured individually, and properties which are both a residence and a business.

As it is, Flood Re does not reduce flood loss, but only spreads the risk, and therefore the costs, by protecting some policyholders at the expense of others. High-risk properties will be subsidised for decades by payments from low-risk households, with the financial risk still covered by the insurance industry, and government carrying no liability. Policyholders are unlikely to accept this situation without protest, and here the US experience may prove instructive.

Lessons from the US

In the US, flood coverage is excluded from property policies provided by private insurers, and is only available through theNational Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), with the federal government acting as insurer of last resort. Following massive payments for flood claims related to Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, the NFIP is approximately US$26 billion in debt. This led to legislation to reform the program, phasing out subsidies over five years, and increasing the annual rate until premiums reflect the true risk.

But as rates rose and homeowners faced huge bills, sometimeshikes of 600-1000%, they pressured congress to delay these rate hikes. Republicans and Democrats found common cause for once, with the proposal sailing through the normally divided senate in a matter of weeks. Less than two years after the flood insurance reform legislation was passed, the senate voted to delay premium increases for up to four years while the Federal Emergency Management Agency drafts a plan to make flood insurance premiums more affordable and re-evaluates the accuracy of its Flood Insurance Rate Maps.

Flood insurance reform efforts in the US have shown the political implications of angry voters. With flooding in some parts of Britain about to enter a third month and costs spiralling, it is something the UK government is also learning the hard way, with Flood Re facing its first test before it even has come into operation.

The Conversation

Share
. Read all 2 comments . Category: Social Sciences History and Philosophy . Tags: , , ,

Thoughts on the recent UN climate meeting in Poland

This post was contributed by Marit Marsh Stromberg,  a PhD student from Birkbeck’s Department of Geography, Environment and Development Studies. Her scholarship is funded by Good Energy – a renewable energy company.

One might have hoped for strong words and swift implementation from world leaders following the latest round of international climate change talks. The evidence and reality point towards the need for action. Firstly, the high likelihood that temperature rise has been caused by humans was emphasised in the Fifth Assessment Report on climate change, which was released recently by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Secondly, typhoon Haiyan, which hit the Philippines earlier this month, has killed more than 5,000 people. Despite these facts, there was no new strongly-phrased climate agreement at the Warsaw Climate Change Conference from 11-22 November.

As usual, things move slowly and are more complex than that.

The gathering of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in the Polish capital, also known as Conference of the Parties (COP) 19, was part of a series of conferences to create a new Kyoto protocol ready to be signed in Paris in 2015. This time the hope is to get every country on board as the last treaty didn’t include major players like the US and China.

The host of the conference, Poland, has been criticised by environmental groups for hosting, at the same time, the Coal and Climate Summit (18-19 November) with the World Coal Association. While this choice to host climate change talks and a coal industry meeting simultaneously could be seen as hypocritical, I say it was a good choice. If it was not held in Poland, that coal conference would have taken place in some other country. The coincidence of the apparently mutually exclusive conferences taking place at the same time sheds lights on the current status of things: while governments all over the world may invest in renewable energies and energy efficiency measures, at the same time they allow business-as-usual in the fossil fuel sector; while the Arctic is melting, new fossil fuel extraction opportunities are revealed and explored. I am sure it is not only Poland that could be accused of hypocrisy and caught red-handed.

Now, how about the outcome of the UN climate conference? It has been reported as limited, but some small steps are still considered to have been made. As one-fifth of the CO2 emissions are related to deforestation the creation of a fund helping developing countries to keep their forests is considered as one of the more substantial outcomes. Another step forward have been the decisions taken regarding the compensation of loss and damage in relation to climate change for developing countries.

As regards the important question of assigning specific CO2 emission reduction targets, it was decided that countries should be able to present their proposed contributions (the exact word was a result of some longer negotiations and chosen instead of commitments) in early 2015 to allow time for the combined efforts to be evaluated before the final meeting later the same year.

The phrasing can apparently now be interpreted in two ways. Firstly, from the perspective of some developed nations (e.g. the US) it is clear that all countries need to make some actual reduction commitments, resting on the the argument that it is necessary that we target those countries that will be emitting the most in the future. Secondly, from the perspective of some developing nations (e.g. China, India) it is clear that developed countries need to take more action since they have the historical responsibility for the current state of affairs. I appreciate both arguments: the current emission trends need to be addressed, but we can’t forget the socioeconomic divisions that exists between (and within) countries and how history brought us here in the first place.

While the world leaders and the UN now have the delicate task of trying to reach a far-reaching and shared platform by the end of 2015, I will continue my own journey in a field related to climate change. This autumn I have started a PhD in Geography at Birkbeck. I will be looking into the characteristics of spatial and temporal variability of intermittent renewable energies, such as wind and solar energy, in the UK and how these characteristics can be used for finding a suitable renewable energy mix for a future reliable and greener electric power system. My studies are funded by Good Energy – a renewable energy company.

I will update you on my progress via a termly blog on these pages. I can’t wait to contribute to research to help reduce CO2  emissions. After all, time is running out.

Share
. Read all 2 comments . Category: Social Sciences History and Philosophy . Tags: , , , , ,