A incapacitated mom from Yorkshire says she is so worried about the cost of water that she sometimes has to miss out on washing or flushing the toilet.
Shirley Widdop, from Keighley, whose bill, based on a water meter, has risen by 35%, says: “It’s outrageous and like something from the 1930 s.”
“We shouldn’t have to ration water.”
A report on poverty from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation shows that arrears for water bills are now the most common form of debt for the poorest families.
“I am on a water meter and because I’m on a low income I constantly worry about the bill being too high, ” says the 51 -year-old, who lives with two of her children.
She says it’s embarrassing but wants to raise awareness for many other people in a similar situation “who can’t speak up for themselves”.
The Consumer Council for Water, the watchdog for water consumers, says the number of people being put on to reduced rates for water bills, because they are struggling to pay, has risen by 50% in a year, to virtually 400,000.
‘Basic human right’
Ms Widdop suffers from a disability, degenerative cervical myelopathy, which she says can cause incontinence.
This becomes even more upsetting when she has to worry about the cost of water, when she wants the dignity of being able to “clean herself up”.
“This is my everyday life. In a decent society, you should be able to wash when you want.
“Access to clean water should be a basic human right, ” she says.
Her monthly water pays are going up from PS21 to PS31, which she says makes a big difference for people already on the financial brink.
“Any increase means having to cut back on other things – food or clothing, ” she says.
Otherwise it means fallen behind with bills and the anxiety of “pressure, pressure, pressure from debt”.
There is no choice of water company – so she says it entails trying to cut down on consumption, such as flushing the toilet less often.
“It’s basically a monopoly. Customers aren’t first and foremost, ” she says.
It could have got much worse, says Ms Widdop.
Last year, her boiler had been leaking into a wall cavity – and the amount of water lost gave her a water bill of PS700.
She says her water supplier, Yorkshire Water, presented “goodwill”, in writing off PS5 00 of the debt, but she still had to find PS2 00.
“Even PS200 is an nasty lot of money when you have no money at all, ” she says.
Most common debts
Problems with paying water bills have become one of the most common forms of debt, says a report on poverty in the UK from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
Figures from the charity show that among the poorest families water bills are now the most common arrears, ahead of council tax, rent or gas or energy bills.
The UK Poverty 2018 report has also highlighted the growing problem of children growing up in poverty in working families.
There are 14.3 million people of all ages living in poverty Of these, eight million are in working households The report blames “parents stuck in low-paid work with little progression” Rising costs, including private rent, leave families with less fund for other essentials Image caption