I’ve had some interesting presents lately. A bottle of drinking water, a hot water bottle, a scented candle, warm gloves you can use your phone with. The key was on the note that came with the candle: “ in case of power cuts”.
In fact people are cutting themselves off by not turning on heating in the first place, or, like me, depending on a hot water bottle to supplement the two jumpers we’re all wearing now.
I got a shock looking at my electric smart meter on a cold morning –two cups of tea, a trip downstairs on my stair lift and two hours using a tiny electric heater in the only room we use during the day, and we’d clocked up £5.49!
But the bottle of water proved to be the most useful so far. As residents of Broadstairs, we’ve had our tap water cut off a few times or had low pressure. As a disabled person Southern Water is supposed to deliver water bottles when everyone else is supposed to collect. I rang twice and was reassured delivery would happen. I drank the water and waited. By 6pm a neighbour turned up with loads of bottles and another got a bucketful from my waterbutt for flushing the loo. Nothing from Southern Water.
Thank goodness for thoughtful friends!
But managing to keep clean with no running water is not easy. I only had one night and I’d had enough of sponge washing and rationing flushing the loo. But some areas were cut off for days and that is serious for many medical conditions.
So when I read that the nice lady from Southern Water had a whole column in the IOTN to tell us how sorry they are, I thought well that’s decent of them!
Then I read that they were putting up prices by around 10%. Apart from the usual excuses – staff costs, chemicals, repairs etc, the nice woman heading up customer services, Katy Taylor, has us poverty stricken oldies at heart – “we are channelling more money (£98 million) than ever into supporting customers in need – particularly those who may struggle to pay their bills.”
Isn’t that all of us? Aren’t we all struggling to bring ourselves to pay anything to a company that pollutes our seas with sewage, closes beaches at the height of the tourist season in the middle of a heatwave, and then manages to cut off water to thousands of people in the misery of mid-winter.
As a private company they are also responsible for paying dividends to shareholders, just like the energy companies. I struggle to bring myself to pay money to a company that doesn’t plough all its income back into updating equipment, testing its product is safe, and if it all goes horribly wrong has some kind of public accountability. Heads should roll, shouldn’t they?
Or how about renationalising all these vital services?
Meantime, if you have problems you can ring Southern Water on 0800 027 0363 (but only Monday to Friday between 9 and 5). Ask them if you can have some of the £98 million “support package”. Good luck!
Christine Tongue is a member of disability campaign group Access Thanet