WWF UK Blog  

In times of austerity, do people still care about the environment?


This year we’re at all the party conferences. The theme is affordability and the question – in times of austerity, do people still care about the environment?

River Cray, Kent © Fullstreak Holes Photography / FlickrRiver Cray, Kent © Fullstreak Holes Photography / Flickr

What do you think about when you boil the kettle for a morning cuppa, or have a soak after a long day at work? It’s probably not the environment – although arguably it should be. These mundane, everyday experiences have a direct connection to our natural world and we’re on a mission to help reignite it.

At WWF, we’ve been working to reconnect people with their environment through our water programme. There is an undisputable link between the water we use putting a load through the washing machine and the rivers we walk beside on a sunny Saturday with the kids and we want everyone to be aware of it. This is essential for the future of the water industry and for our precious environment.

The fact that customers have told water companies that they value the environment and are willing to pay more to make sure companies take action to prevent further damage is heartening. But, this is only the tip of the iceberg and there is still a lot of work to be done. Too few people really understand that when they turn on the tap, the water that flows out originally came from a stream or, when they flush the loo, that sewage can get washed straight into a river or the sea.

What can be done to reconnect people to their natural environment?

Lots in fact! What we want is public engagement from water companies, government and NGOs so that people know where their water comes from and understand some of the fantastic work taking place by water companies, businesses and NGOs to reverse the damage.
We also want to make sure the right policy is in place to manage water in the 21st century. The Water Act introduced some welcome changes to help prevent over-use of our rivers. However, we are pushing for the water charging regime to be brought up to date to help tackle over-use of water as well as encourage us to value it.

Swan on the river Itchen, Hampshire © Jiri Rezak / WWF-UKSwan on the river Itchen, Hampshire © Jiri Rezak / WWF-UK

Just under half of households in England and Wales now pay for water using a meter.  The other half will continue to pay a flat rate. The Independent Walker Review concluded that this ‘mixed’ charging system was unfair and not progressive (lower income households subsidising their better off and higher consuming neighbours to the tune of £420m a year). Quite simply it is not fit to address affordability issues in the water sector. Instead, it recommended a widespread switchover to metered charging underpinned by social tariffs and efficient equipment.

Ofwat’s latest draft determinations suggest just 61% of the country will be metered by 2020 and our own analysis – the Blueprint for Water scorecard – showed that this issue of sustainable and affordable charging was the area where  companies scored poorly.

Our role is clear – we must make sure that affordable and sustainable water charging remains high on the government’s agenda and that a new strategy to deliver fair, sustainable and affordable water charging based on universal metering is implemented. But, this must be coupled with an injection of public engagement to reconnect people with the water they use.

This issue is too important to ignore.

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