Around 100 passengers stuck for up to 14 hours on a train without heating, working toilets, and water. A woman gives birth in snow. 10 people die due to slipping under cars on un-gritted pavements, cars skidding, or freezing to death.
This came not as a miscalculation or inability to respond. Not even a mistake, but a deliberate decision on behalf of the government to stand back.
Severe weather had been predicted for weeks. This wasn’t a surprise. The chaos of the past week is indicative of an increasing neglect of local issues, such as road maintenance, which have been under insurmountable pressure. Cuts of 57% to the Debra mean that there simply aren’t enough resources.
This is not unlike the Ford Pinto case of 1999. The company calculated that it was cheaper for them to pay the family of the victims who died due to faults in their vehicles, than fix the problem. Michael Sandel relates this to the Philip Morris study, commissioned by the Czech Republic, which showed that the government saved $1,227 from each premature death as a result of smoking. Sometimes it’s cheaper to let people crash on frozen motorways. It is not difficult to clear the roads or to bring out evacuation vehicles so that people are not stuck overnight in sub-zero temperatures. It just comes down to cost-benefit analysis.
We can stay warm(ish) in our houses as the Library and Union are closed and societies are cancelled. But there are people who face the toll of the government quietly skirting into the corners. Hospital staff were ‘encouraged’ to come to work this week, and when unable to return home some were put out on mattresses with cold chips as their meal. Some were forced to stay for an unpaid hour following their night shift to see if there was any cover required in other departments. My Mum, a nurse in A&E, took time before and after her 12 hour shift to drive around her colleagues. We see the government putting in place expectations for services to continue and deal with the pressure, but do nothing to facilitate this. These are the casualties of the state’s heartless and pragmatic calculation. You see the Deliveroo drivers – or independent suppliers I should say – trek up ice covered Lamond Drive on the bikes. They’re not going to be paid for undelivered burgers.
“But snow is rare in the UK – this takes time, resources!” For a country that complains of cold and changing weather, we should know better. And it does snow here – we’re just always unprepared for it. This is not an earthquake, a war or an epidemic. In some ways, it’s even natural. One of the passengers – I want to say ‘survivors’ – on a stranded train expressed his bewilderment: “It shouldn’t happen in this day and age, it’s not as if we’ve got three-foot of snow on the tracks.” Do we not have the capacity in 2018 to ensure that people do not freeze to death?
The personification of storms – whether it’s Emma, Dylan, or Caroline – perhaps does raise awareness of them among the public, but its chief purpose is to shift the blame. It’s like the idea of suing God. I am by no means suggesting that Theresa May is responsible for the storm – not directly at least (global warming is for another time) – but the effects of the weather could have been seriously mediated had the government’s response been different.
The government decided that those cuts, which have transposed into human lives, where worth the risk. In Poland, most of the deaths came from people sleeping rough. Here, the government didn’t care about the seven year old girl hit by skidding car, the woman whose body was found in the hills or the 70 year old man who went for a walk. It’s cheaper, after all. No schooling, pensions or support. Why don’t we just give them cars that set on fire, or cigarette freebies?
It takes a blanket of snow to uncover where our country’s priorities lie.