Thames Water, photo: Philafrenzy/CC
Thames Water, photo: Philafrenzy/CC

Alex Chapman, Oxford Socialist Party

In 1989, the Conservative government under Thatcher privatised our water services. Since then water bills have skyrocketed over 40% above the rate of inflation. Yet this surge in costs has not been matched by improved performance. In 2019, the Environment Agency revealed that only 14% of England’s rivers meet their ecological targets. Stories of raw sewage flooding people’s streets and homes have become depressingly common.

This disastrous performance can be easily explained: despite increased costs forced upon the public, minimal investment is directed towards enhancing our sewage system. Almost every penny you pay your water company funnels into their profits (£1.7 billion last year), generous shareholder dividends and paying off debts.

To add a bitter twist, English water firms have responded to this self-inflicted crisis by demanding even more money! Bills are expected to rise at least 40% by the end of the decade in order to deal with the emerging climate disaster. Curiously absent from their proposals is any notion of cutting into profits and dividends.

Nationalisation on its own doesn’t solve all the problems the industry has. Indeed, prior to their privatisation, Thatcher’s government chronically underfunded the Regional Water Authorities (RWAs). This resulted in predictably poor performance which was used to justify privatisation.

This paints a clear pattern in pro-capitalist politicians’ strategy over decades: starve a public service, then ‘save’ it by handing it over to private interests. This happened to our water; this is happening to our health service. Water needs to be renationalised. This time fully funded and under democratic working-class control and management. As part of a wider socialist planned economy, all our services could be run to meet the needs of people and the planet.