New research: Government missing opportunity to solve growing water crisis

Posted: Wednesday 8th February 2012

The government is getting it wrong on how we pay for water, new Fabian research shows.

The new water white paper refuses to enforce the use of water metering, leaving the decisions to individual water companies. However new research published December 14th shows the public are prepared to support water metering measures, but only if government takes the lead and they are seen to affect everyone equally.

With drought conditions likely to be a growing feature of British life, ‘fair shares for all’ is crucial for the public legitimacy of any sustainable water policy.

The research shows the current split between the 37% of UK households who pay for water on a meter and the rest of the population who use the outdated rateable value system is seen as profoundly unfair. The UK stand with Ireland and Norway as the only European countries without universal or near-universal metering coverage.

The report, ‘Water Use in Southern England: what do the public think is fair?’, shows that the exact opposite of the government’s white paper is true: an overwhelming number of focus group participants said they didn’t want policy left to water companies and want government to show some leadership. The coalition is therefore failing to address the fundamental problems with how we pay for and use water at household level.

The author of the report Natan Doron said: “It’s very disappointing to see the lack of ambition on water metering in this white paper. Our research shows that the public feel strongly about metering. Paying for water by what we use presents a real potential to change the way we view this scarce resource. Our current charging structures are outdated and unfair, and the government is merely delaying the inevitable and important decision to take action on setting out a timeline for metering across the country.”

Rose Timlett, Freshwater Manager at WWF said: “This research shows that once people understand the water stress situation, the impact of their water use - and just how unfair current water charges are - they are firm advocates of metering. The Government needs to take a much stronger lead in rolling out meters as part of a comprehensive package that includes social tariffs and water efficiency measures to achieve a more sustainable, fair and affordable water charging system.”

Gavin Shuker MP, Shadow Water Minister said: Sold as a once in a generation re-evaluation of the Water industry, this White Paper is something of a damp squib. Real action is required, and political leadership, to ensure that the costs of water stress don't fall disproportionately on those who will struggle most to pay for it.

Soon, more than half of households will be metered. By 2030, the 80% will be. Yet the Government’s White Paper is completely silent on how to create a fair and affordable settlement, now that majority-metering is becoming a reality.

The industry and consumers look to Government for leadership. This Defra team offers none.

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