Following a summer of record temperatures and low rainfall, large parts of the country now officially face a drought. This crisis is years in the making – the product of privatisation and profiteering. We say: nationalise the water monopolies!

Following a summer of record temperatures and low rainfall, large parts of the country now officially face a drought. This crisis is years in the making – the product of privatisation and profiteering. We say: nationalise the water monopolies!

As heatwaves sweep across Europe, country after country has suffered extreme high temperatures and low rainfall, leading to widespread drought.

The UK has experienced its driest summer for 50 years. In England and Wales, the government has officially declared a drought, and experts predict that dry conditions will remain across Britain until October. As a result, hosepipe bans are now in place across the country.

Even more seriously, low rainfall means that reduced yields and quality are likely for some crops, leading to possible food shortages and higher prices. With fields now barren, farmers are being forced to feed cattle hay meant for the winter.

This follows a record-breaking heatwave in Britain, which saw temperatures rise above 40°C in England. Climate scientists have warned that these summer temperatures will soon become the new normal.

In France and Portugal, wildfires have devastated huge regions, forcing thousands to flee. In Germany, water levels on the river Rhine have reached a critical low. Consequently, barges transporting coal are unable to reach power stations, exacerbating the energy crisis that the country already faces.

Across the world, the climate crisis caused by capitalism has thrown millions into poverty and cost countless lives, and now threatens millions more. To avoid complete catastrophe, this destructive, bankrupt system must be overthrown.

Chronic neglect

Water pipes sewerage

The current water crisis in Britain has been years in the making. The country’s water infrastructure has been chronically underfunded and neglected for decades. For example, not a single new reservoir has been built in southern England since 1976, even as water use has risen. 

To make matters worse, one-fifth of water leaks out of old pipes before it even reaches people’s taps. Last year, for example, water companies in England and Wales lost an estimated 1 trillion litres due to leakages – the equivalent of 426,875 Olympic swimming pools.

At the same time, these same water companies pump vast amounts of raw sewage into the UK’s rivers. In 2021 alone, for example, Thames Water dumped sewage into rivers 5,028 times.

Despite this environmental destruction, water companies have barely received a slap on the wrist. Severn Trent was fined a mere £1.5 million for dumping sewage in Worcestershire in 2021. The firm’s chief executive, meanwhile, gets paid £3.9 million per year.

Profits over people

This broken status quo is the result of privatisation. Rather than investing to upgrade and improve decaying Victorian infrastructure, profiteers and parasites have lined their pockets at the public’s expense.

Private ownership of the UK’s water system has been a consistent and reliable source of profits for the capitalists – profits made by running services into the ground, whilst fat-cat executives take home massive paychecks and bonuses.

The Thatcher government privatised the water industry in England and Wales in 1989. Since then, investors have taken home £72 billion in dividends. In this same period, meanwhile, water bills have risen 40% faster than inflation.

And whilst the rest of us face a dire cost-of-living crisis, water bosses’ bonuses have increased by 20% since last year.

Given the current decrepit state of Britain’s water network, it is evident that the system is entirely unprepared to respond to droughts and the impacts of climate change. In fact, profit-driven water companies have made the situation worse by cutting corners.

As the Angling Trust accurately summarised in a recent statement: “With climate change impacts being felt here and now, the government and water companies have known this is coming. Yet they have prioritised profits over the needs of our environment and wildlife.”

Expropriate the profiteers

expropriate the monopolies

It is abundantly clear that neither the private water companies nor official regulators such as OFWAT (the Water Services Regulation Authority) have any intention of solving the problems with Britain’s water industry.

In fact, OFWAT has consistently defended these crooked water companies, dismissing public concerns over raw sewage leaks and the lack of new reservoirs. At the same time, the water firms consider regulator fines to be the cost of doing business.

Left in private hands, the country’s water crisis will only deepen. To reverse the problem, a massive programme of investment is needed in the UK’s water infrastructure: constructing new reservoirs; fixing leaks; and building new facilities to treat sewage, rather than dump it.

But none of this will be done, as long as the system is privately owned and run for profit.

Instead, therefore, the water monopolies – and the whole water network – must be nationalised, without compensation, and placed under democratic workers’ control and management.

The mass investment that is needed, meanwhile, should be funded by expropriating the bankers, bosses, and billionaires. It is them, not the working class, who should pay for this crisis.

Socialism or barbarism

As global temperatures rise, droughts will become more and more common. There is no time to waste. Yet it is clear that the ruling class is unwilling and unable to undertake the action that is urgently needed to solve the crisis.

One recent poll by Survation found that 69% of voters favour public ownership of Britain’s water system – even higher than the large support for the nationalisation of rail, mail, and energy.

Yet the political representatives of the ruling class are looking in the other direction. Tory leadership candidates only talk about slashing taxes and implementing further austerity. Keir Starmer, meanwhile, long ago abandoned his campaign pledge to renationalise Britain’s railway, water, and energy networks.

Privatisation has been a total disaster for ordinary people. The market has failed across the board. Capitalism is killing our planet – polluting the air we breathe and the water we drink.

On the basis of a socialist economic plan, however, society’s resources, science, and technology could be harnessed to avert disaster.

The choice facing us is that of socialism or barbarism. We need a revolution.